DorobekInsider: What’s behind the cyber-czar Hathaway resignation? And why is this post so difficult to fill?

There are two big questions arising from the sudden and expected yet surprising resignation announcement last week from Melissa Hathaway, who has been the Obama...

There are two big questions arising from the sudden and expected yet surprising resignation announcement last week from Melissa Hathaway, who has been the Obama administration’s acting cyber-security czar.

Big question one: Why is she leaving? And big question two: Why does this job seem to be so difficult to fill?

I should note up top that the WP reported over the weekend that Mischel Kwon, the director of the Homeland Security Department’s U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team, submitted her resignation.

Kwon, who is the fourth US-CERT director in five years, was frustrated by bureaucratic obstacles and a lack of authority to fulfill her mission, according to colleagues who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Her departure follows the resignation of the lead White House cybersecurity official, Melissa E. Hathaway, who said last week that she would step down.

In March, another Homeland Security cybersecurity official, Rod Beckstrom, resigned, citing a lack of support inside the agency and what he described as a power grab by the National Security Agency.

Read Beckstrom’s telling resignation letter here.

Needless to say, there has been a lot of buzz in the cyber-world about both questions.

Last week on Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, we spoke toMichael Tanji, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Threat Awareness and a blogger for’s Danger Room, who argues that the post simply isn’t necessary… and we spoke to Robert Dix, Vice President of Government Affairs & Critical Infrastructure Protection at Juniper Networks and formerly a senior staffer for Rep. Tom Davis on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

I have also been hearing from a lot of people on both questions and there seems to be a growing consensus. One is almost unanimous respect and admiration for Hathaway, who led the Obama administration’s 60-day top-to-bottom review of the government’s cyber-security initiatives. (Find that report and other related links in the The DorobekInsider reader: Obama cyber policy review.) It was a monumental effort and they believe she carried it out extremely successfully.

Yet there is some concern in the cyber-security community that Hathway was not treated fairly by the White House. It was quietly reported last week that Hathaway was all-but escorted from her White House post last week. White House officials say her time at the White House had ended, but… if that’s the case and she had just announced her resignation… the White House could have followed her announcement with a notice giving her kudos for her tenure. Instead, even she was surprised to have been showed the door. Several people said it was, in part, Hathaway’s interview with the WP that may have hastened her White House departure.

“I wasn’t willing to continue to wait any longer, because I’m not empowered right now to continue to drive the change,” she said. “I’ve concluded that I can do more now from a different role,” most likely in the private sector.

Furthermore, she was widely considered one of the leading candidates for the cyber-czar job. The truth of that is unclear. Some have speculated that if she was going to get the job, President Obama would have announced it when he announced the creation of the cyber-security post.

The question is what is taking so long. The White House argues that they wanted to do a full review, but in the end, there are only a handful of people who are capable of this job. Davis has all but pulled his name from the list. Hathaway clearly has. But there are some who also feel that the job is simply not constructed correctly. The job was going to be difficult anyway, but the White House created a post that reports both to the National Security Council and the National Economic Council, and by reporting to two organizations, it creates inherent organizational tension.

More troublesome to me is the concern among some that the Obama White House is intolerant of dissent — you are either for them or against them, and if you are against them, you’re gone. It was a big issue with the Bush administration — it was the Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome. And several people expressed concern that the way Hataway has been treated is a eerie rememberence of those days. I think we’re doing a bit too much tea leaf reading, but… we’ll see.

Regardless, there in unanimous opinion that this post needs to be filled — and soon. I was talking to an influential CIO who stressed the importance of this position. There are important issues to confront, and this post can provide leadership — and management — on those issues, the CIO argued.

As we say in radio, stay tuned.

Some resources:

* The DorobekInsider reader: Obama cyber policy review… At the end of May, the President announced the results of his 60-day top-to-bottom review of the nation’s cyber-security defenses. I have a number of resources — everything from links to the document itself to a Congressional Research Service Review. Find it all here.

* Other Cyber-czar candidates… We hear the appointment was to have happened July 13, but could that be stepped up given recent events? is hearing the same names that I’m hearing. I hear there are three names under serious consideration:

* Melissa Hathaway, who got high marks for leading the Obama cyber-security review
* Fred Kramer, who served as the assistant defense secretary for international security affairs under President Clinton
* Howard Schmidt, former Microsoft chief security advisor and former adviser to Bush on cyberspace security

Others mentioned include former Rep. Tom Davis — he tells Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Max Cacas he’s not interested — among others.

* 5 Fed Cybersecurity Priorities for the Summer from a great read…

Summertime Action: Naming a cyber czar, reforming FISMA, securing the cloud, enhancing R&D and updating the Privacy Act… read more here.

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