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Bipartisan lawmakers signal support for Biden cybersecurity picks

The Hill logo The Hill 4/12/2021 Maggie Miller
Joe Biden wearing a suit and tie: Bipartisan lawmakers signal support for Biden cybersecurity picks © Getty Images Bipartisan lawmakers signal support for Biden cybersecurity picks

Key lawmakers on Monday expressed support for President Biden's picks to lead federal efforts on securing the nation against cyber threats.

Biden announced plans to nominate former National Security Agency Deputy Director Chris Inglis to fill the newly created role of national cyber director at the White House. He also named Jen Easterly as his pick to serve as director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).

Both nominees will need to be approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee before heading to the full Senate for confirmation.

"Filling these roles and ensuring these critical federal agencies have qualified, Senate-confirmed leadership continues to be a priority for our committee," an aide for Committee Chairman Gary Peters (D-Mich.) told The Hill on Monday. "Chairman Peters looks forward to moving quickly to review these nominees' qualifications and advance them through the confirmation process so we can have qualified, Senate-confirmed leaders in place as soon as practicable."

Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio), the panel's top Republican, did not raise any objections to the nominees.

"As a former Cabinet official I believe that every nominee deserves a fair process and I look forward to reviewing the National Cyber Director and CISA Director nominees based on their merits," Portman, who served as director of the White House Office of Management and Budget under former President George W. Bush, said in a statement provided to The Hill.

The position of national cyber director, who will serve as the federal government's cyber czar and coordinate cybersecurity policy, was created as part of the most recent National Defense Authorization Act.

CISA has been without a Senate-confirmed director since former President Trump fired former Director Chris Krebs in November after the agency pushed back against claims of election disinformation and misinformation.

Both Inglis and Easterly received almost unanimous praise from former federal cyber leaders on Monday. Krebs tweeted that they were "brilliant picks," and Thomas Bossert, former homeland security adviser during the Trump administration, described them as "outstanding appointments to lead our Nation's cybersecurity."

The cyber czar position is an elevated version of the previous White House cybersecurity coordinator position, which was eliminated under the Trump administration by former national security adviser John Bolton in an effort to cut down on bureaucracy.

Bringing back and elevating the role to a Senate-confirmed position, and one with that comes with up to 75 staff members in the executive office, was a goal spearheaded by the Cyberspace Solarium Commission. The group is made up of lawmakers, federal officials and industry leaders who submitted recommendations to Congress last year on how to defend the nation against cyberattacks.

Lawmakers on the commission have increasingly pressured Biden to fill the cyber czar role. That pressure has intensified in the wake of both the SolarWinds hack, which compromised at least nine federal agencies, and the vulnerabilities in Microsoft's Exchange Server program that allowed at least one Chinese hacking group to compromise thousands of businesses.

Commission co-chairs Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) and Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), along with members Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), put out a joint statement Monday strongly supporting both Easterly and Inglis, a fellow commission member.

"We are pleased that President Biden has nominated our fellow Solarium Commissioner Chris Inglis to be the country's first National Cyber Director," the lawmakers said.

"His wealth of experience in the highest ranks of government cyber operations and policy making ensured that our proposal was grounded in the reality of today," they added.

Inglis was previously confirmed by the Senate for his role at the NSA.

The lawmakers noted that Easterly was also involved in the commission's work on strategy development.

"Her incisive mind and tenacity will be great assets to CISA as it continues to mature," the four lawmakers said. "Strengthening CISA is an essential part of the Solarium strategy, and Jen is just that - a strong pick."

The four bipartisan commission leaders pointed to the SolarWinds and Microsoft incidents Monday in stressing that "as our adversaries' attempts to probe our networks become bolder, the need for a leader with statutory authority to coordinate the development and implementation of a national cyber strategy to defend and secure everything from our hospitals to our power grid could not be more clear."

Langevin was particularly key in establishing the position, having introduced legislation for the past 10 years to create a Senate-confirmed cyber czar.

But the position could face hurdles when it comes to funding, with money for the cyber czar office left out of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan signed into law last month. Langevin told The Hill on Monday that he saw this as a temporary problem.

"I have high confidence that the office will be adequately funded, that is part of my job," Langevin said during a phone interview. "There are other avenues coming up, particularly the Capitol Police supplemental under consideration ... or regular appropriations process, but I think it will be funded sooner rather than later."

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