White House cyber czar Howard Schmidt to retire

Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt is stepping down after 2-1/2 years, an NSC spokeswoman confirms.

White House cybersecurity coordinator Howard Schmidt is stepping down after 2-1/2 years, a National Security Council spokeswoman confirmed to Federal News Radio on Thursday.

Schmidt, 62, is stepping down to spend more time with his family and to pursue a teaching opportunity. He also served as a cyber adviser under President George W. Bush.

President Barack Obama greets White House Cybersecurity Chief Howard Schmidt in the White House in 2009. (Lawrence Jackson/White House)

“It has been a tremendous honor for me to have served in this role and to have worked with such dedicated and professional colleagues both in the government and private sector,” Schmidt said.

As first reported by the Washington Post, Schmidt will be succeeded by Michael Daniel, a 17-year veteran of the Office of Management and Budget. Daniel, 41, has worked on cyber issues in OMB’s intelligence branch for more than 10 years.

Schmidt oversaw the White House’s first legislative proposal on cybersecurity. During his tenure, the White House also unveiled its first international strategy for cyberspace — including the controversial statement that the United States will respond to cyber attacks with “kinetic” (military) force.

Behind the scenes — too much?

Schmidt told Federal News Radio’s Jason Miller last year that he was more interested in “operationalizing” changes behind the scenes than in publicly selling initiatives.

But his lack of public exposure led to the perception among industry experts that the Obama administration hasn’t taken federal cybersecurity as seriously as the previous administration. In his first two years in office, Obama released fewer than half the number of cybersecurity advisories that Bush did in the same time period.

Several experts speaking anonymously told Federal News Radio there was a vacuum in leadership being filled by the Department of Homeland Security and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Schmidt said he didn’t understand that perception.

“The discussion’s already taken place. Now we’re getting from talking about stuff to actually getting it done. And that doesn’t involve me going out and meeting with agencies,” he said.

Well wishes from colleagues

If there has been criticism of Schmidt within the federal community, then it wasn’t apparent on Thursday. Statements of gratitude and well wishes have poured in from colleagues.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said: “[Schmidt] has been an invaluable resource in our ongoing efforts to strengthen cybersecurity and protect our nation’s critical infrastructure. As one of the leading authorities on cybersecurity in our country, his contributions will be missed and we wish him all the best.”

John Brennan, the assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, said: “The president and I are extremely grateful for [Schmidt]’s tireless work in addressing one of the most serious national security challenges we face as a nation.”

National Security Agency head General Keith Alexander credited Schmidt with spearheading the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace initiative, which strengthens privacy credentials and makes it easier to establish a person’s identity online.

“[Schmidt] has been a passionate advocate for the cybersecurity education that is so essential to success in this area. His leadership has made a difference both within the federal government and throughout the nation, and he will be missed,” Alexander said.

Young and plugged-in successor

Alexander also lauded the incoming cyber czar, Michael Daniel. Although he is only 41 years old, he has worked in OMB’s National Security Division for nearly two decades.

“He understands the challenges that are facing our nation in cyberspace and the importance of moving forward with urgency to address the threats,” Alexander said. “He listens carefully, quickly gets to the root[s] of issues, and identifies a path forward that takes into account the stakeholders’ key issues. I look forward to continuing to work with him in his new role.”

Daniel has focused on cybersecurity for the last 10 years and has “worked on virtually every major issue affecting the intelligence community,” the NSC spokeswoman said.

He holds degrees from Princeton University, Harvard University and the National Defense University’s Industrial College of the Armed Forces.

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