Bill to Restore State Department Cyber Office Advances

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Aung Shine Oo/AP

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shuttered the office in September.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee forwarded legislation Wednesday that would reinstate the position of a top cyber diplomat at the State Department.

The Cyber Diplomacy Act, sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., and ranking member Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., is a rebuke to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who eliminated the cyber coordinator’s role along with myriad other special ambassadors and envoys in August.

The bill passed the committee on a voice vote.

Tillerson’s decision to shutter the cyber coordinators’ office was the first move in a process that will ultimately elevate cybersecurity at the State Department, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan told the House Foreign Affairs Committee in September, but the department has not yet made any public moves in that direction.

Royce and Engel’s bill would put the power of legislation behind the cyber coordinator’s position previously held by Chris Painter and elevate the role to a presidential appointment. Painter was picked for the job by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The bill expresses the “sense of Congress” that the office should ultimately be raised to the level of a full bureau within the State Department.

The bill would also endorse a series of global cyber norms that Painter’s office pushed during the Obama administration. Those include that nations should not hack each other for economic gain, should not use cyberattacks to damage each other’s critical infrastructure, such as electric utilities and airports, and should not target each other’s cyber emergency response teams.