Cybersecurity in an Election Year

I've got a piece in the Phoenix today on the momentum surrounding cybersecurity legislation, designed to stave off attacks on critical US infrastructure and bite into billions of dollars in intellectual property theft.

One point that didn't get into the piece: the importance of election year politics.

National security issues, in theory, have the sort of bi-partisan appeal that might override electoral considerations. But observers and Congressional insiders say there is a broad sense that Washington needs to move swiftly on cybersecurity, lest the heat of the 2012 campaign season burn up any chance for passage.

Travis Sharp, an analyst with the Center for a New American Security and co-author of a cybersecurity report due out next week, "America's Cyber Future: Security and Prosperity in the Information Age," says the jockeying between the Republican and Democratic parties to control and claim credit for bill - and thus, the chances that the legislation dies amid partisan bickering - will be made more intense, as campaign season approaches, by the relative paucity of major legislation in a divided, largely do-nothing Washington.

"If not a lot of legislation is being passed," he says, "both parties are going to want to take credit for the bill."

And the prospect of moving swiftly, to avoid the death of the bill, is complicated by a number of factors. First, there is the sheer complexity of the subject. The process of "member education," Sharp says, will be long and involved. There is also a considerable gap between the two houses of Congress - the Senate is far along in crafting a comprehensive bill, but the effort in the House has been fragmented and halting. Speaker of the House John Boehner and his designee on the issue - Representative Mac Thornberry of Texas - will inevitably want to put their stamp on the legislation and that could take time.

Then, there will be the process of reconciling the legislation out of the two chambers which are, of course, controlled by different parties.

In the meantime, Rhode Island Congressman James Langevin is pressing for legislation that would, among other things, put a powerful cybersecurity coordinator in the Executive Office of the President. Here's his speech on the proposal last night. A vote on the measure, which passed the House last year, is expected sometime today. Regardless of how it fares in the House, though, it could face some tough sledding. The Obama Administration has proposed cybersecurity hub in the Department of Homeland Security rather than the White House. See my post yesterday for a take on why the administration might prefer that arrangement.


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