Thursday, October 7, 2021

A Cybersecurity Committee?

There is an interesting article over on about establishing standalone cybersecurity committees in both the House and Senate. The people arguing for idea are concerned that the oversight and legislative authority for cybersecurity is too spread-out through too many committees to be effective. This is certainly an interesting proposal and worthy of discussion, but the arguments discussed in the article are a bit simplistic.

Select Committee

Most of the discussion in the article dealt with the possibility of establishing a ‘Select Committee’ on cybersecurity. Technically, a ‘select committee’ is a temporary committee established to look at a particular problem or issue, come up with a comprehensive report or legislative proposal, and then dissolve. A good current example is the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol.

There are two prominent examples of select committees that have become de facto permanent or standing committees; the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. These are two of the busiest committees in Congress because of their very active oversight of the intelligence community.

I suspect that Sen King (I,ME) and Rep Katko (R,NY) have the intelligence committee model in mind when they talk about forming a Select Committee on Cybersecurity. Both Committees have a high degree of autonomy, but they do have shared oversight responsibility over intelligence matters and spending authority with the respective armed services, homeland security and energy committees.

A big reason for the strength of the two Intelligence Committees is that much of what they do is classified and not subject to public scrutiny or debate. Additionally, most of the impact of what they oversee is not directly felt within the boundaries of the United States, their focus is extraterritorial which further limits the public interest in what those committees do.

Standing Up New Committee

Starting a new committee in either house of congress is a major political undertaking. Every facet of the operation of the Federal government is overseen by one or more committees. This provides each committee member and more emphatically the chair of the committee with a large measure of influence and power over the agencies which they oversee. Very few politicians, of either party, will willingly give up that power.

We saw this when the House stood up the Homeland Security Committee. While the Committee was given oversight responsibility for the Department of Homeland Security, the Committees that previously had oversight responsibility for agencies that were moved into DHS, effectively retained oversight for those agencies. Even when new programs were stood up after DHS was established, other committees fought for and were given some limited oversight responsibility for those new programs. In the case of the CFATS program, for example, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has shared responsibility for that program. Historically the biggest impediment to passing CFATS legislation has been the conflict between these two House committees.

Shared Responsibilities

The problems standing up a cyber security committee will be as complicated as starting the Homeland Security Committee. Nearly every committee in Congress has some sort of interest in cybersecurity, either in the agencies they oversee or in the parts of the economy that they regulate, and, in most cases, both. The committees with major cybersecurity interests include:

• Homeland Security,

• Armed Services,

• Energy and Commerce,

• Financial Services,

• Judiciary,

• Science, Space, and Technology

• Small Business,

• Transportation and Infrastructure, and

• Intelligence

Wresting the oversight and legislative power from those committees to stand up a new Cybersecurity Committee will be a Sisyphean task. Even if the new Committee gets primary oversight responsibility, bits and pieces of that oversight will be retained by the original committees. To get anything significant accomplished the two committee chairs will have to work out compromise arrangements on every piece of legislation considered.

In short, while this may be a solution worth trying, expecting it to solve the complex power-sharing problems in Congress and easing the problems of moving legislation forward is not reasonable.

No comments:

/* Use this with templates/template-twocol.html */