Top House Armed Services Democrat wants oversight of new DoD cyber strategy

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With the Democrats taking control of the House starting in January, the likely-incoming chairman of the House Armed Services Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee is whittling down his priorities for the panel in the next legislative session. The top areas he wants to cover have a common thread that should come as no surprise: Cyber.

Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) was just reelected to his tenth term in Congress, and is poised to take the gavel from current chairman, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.).

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In an interview with Federal News Network, Langevin said cybersecurity, election security and keeping a watchful eye over the Trump administration’s new defense cyber policy are some of the most important topics the subcommittee will face in the coming year.

“We want to make sure they are held accountable and we are properly implementing these new strategies,” Langevin said.

DoD’s new cyber strategy, which was released in September, is much more “forward leaning” than strategies of the past, Langevin said. The strategy focuses on great power competition and also allows DoD to more readily conduct cyber operations in defense of the nation outside of its own networks.

What’s concerning is “the unintended consequences,” Langevin said. “If we are going to be more proactive in cyberspace, I think that can be a good thing, but working with allies and having international coordination is essential.”

To that point, Langevin criticized the administration’s decision to eliminate the cybersecurity coordinator at the State Department and the cybersecurity coordinator role on the National Security Council.

The Trump administration said it got rid of the roles in the NSC and State Department as part of an effort to cut back bureaucracy and streamline decision making.

“Big mistake,” Langevin said. “Cybersecurity is not just a U.S. problem or challenge; it’s an international problem and challenge that we need to work on together. Having an international focus and having someone at the State Department is going to help coordinate those cyber strategies and responses.”

While Langevin thinks international cooperation is imperative to the nation’s cybersecurity, he also thinks the government and private sector need to ramp up their communication about cyber threats.

“We are going to continue to track the implementation of the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2015,” Langevin said. “It has not lived up to its potential or what I certainly hoped we would accomplish in terms of sharing robust threat information, threat signatures and network speed. That has not happened at all to the level it needs to happen.”

Currently, only six companies are sharing cyber threat information with the government and about 200 are taking the information the government is offering, Langevin said.

“That just seems incomprehensible to that the numbers would be low, but that’s the reality and we have to do better,” Langevin said. He added that it is unclear why the companies are not signing up for the program.

“We need to get our arms around why and how we can incentivize more robust information sharing,” Langevin said. “The only way we are going to really effectively protect ourselves and the government is to properly inoculate ourselves when we know of a threat signature that could pose harm.”

Langevin is also planning on keeping a close eye on the delegation of authorities given to U.S. Cyber Command as it grows in its role as a full combatant command.

The congressman also stressed the need for a law that governs how quickly data breaches need to be reported. Currently each state has its own law about how quickly breaches need to be reported, Langevin wants a federal standard of 30 days.

Budget

Numbers around the 2020 Defense budget are already beginning to fly. Langevin said he agreed with Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), who will likely chair the House Armed Services Committee, that the United States needs to specialize in certain areas and leave some slack for allies to pick up. That could have an effect on how big the Defense budget ends up.

Smith said Democrats will look at how they can, within a reasonable budget, manage risk while also prioritizing other factors that make a country “safe, secure and prosperous” like paying down debt and fixing infrastructure.

“The biggest problem I feel that we’ve had is, because we get this ‘Oh my God we have to cover everything [mindset],’ we wind up covering nothing well and that leaves the men and women who serve us in a position where they are not properly trained, properly equipped to meet all the missions we want them to meet,” he said. “It’s a complete impossibility to meet all the missions that we dream up.”

Langevin stated the sequestration caps for both defense and nondefense need to be lifted.