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Lawmakers Call for Cybersecurity Enhancements

As the 108th Congress scrambles in its final days to address homeland security issues, U.S. Reps. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) are focusing on the state of U.S. cybersecurity.

Thornberry, chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Science, and Research and Development, and Lofgren, the panel's ranking member, have introduced The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2004, which, they say, will improve the department's capacity for protecting critical cyber systems.

The bill would broaden the definition of cybersecurity to include not only computers and computer networks but also "wire communication." The expanded definition would grant authority to the new assistant secretary over protecting not just networks but also telecommunications.

In addition, the two lawmakers introduced the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Enhancement Act of 2004.

"I believe the department must invest more time, more money and more energy to R&D," Lofgren stated. "Our legislation will help the department develop the cutting-edge technologies needed to win the war on terror."

The science and technology bill also requires the DHS to establish a program to transfer and commercialize promising technologies for use by federal, state and local government agencies and the private sector.

"The Science and Technology Directorate is making progress, but we want to help the department focus on working with the private sector and to establish a formal program to improve the interoperability of public safety communications," Thornberry said in a joint statement with Lofgren.

The likelihood of either bill passing as standalone legislation is remote since Congress plans to adjourn at the end of September with a possible lame duck session after the national elections in November. However, sources close to the legislation say they hope elements of the bills could be added to future cybersecurity bills and initiatives.

"The leadership has said they are going to move 911 legislation," one source said. "The leadership has asked committees of all jurisdictions to come up with proposals."

The legislation would also amend the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to create the position of assistant secretary for cybersecurity. Currently, the highest-ranking cybersecurity officer in the federal government is Amit Yoran, who is the director of the National Cyber Security Division (NCSD) of the Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Directorate (IAIP) at the DHS.

Yoran reports to Bob Liscouski, the assistant secretary for infrastructure protection in the IAIP. Liscouski, in turn, reports to Frank Libutti, the under secretary for information analysis and infrastructure and protection, who works for DHS Secretary Tom Ridge.

In this line of command, only Yoran and Liscouski have technology backgrounds.

"During the past year and a half, the subcommittee has heard from numerous experts about the need to address the increasing threats and vulnerabilities facing our nation's computer networks and systems," Lofgren said in a statement. "Our legislation will strengthen the department's cybersecurity efforts and make sure the appropriate person within DHS has the authority and direction to get the job done."