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Congressman Denny Heck

Representing the 10th District of Washington

Dems urge Trump to reinstate top cyber post

May 17, 2018
In The News

House Democrats are urging President Trump to reconsider his decision to scrap a top cyber policy adviser role following the administration's decision to eliminate the position aimed at coordinating the government's approach to cybersecurity policy across federal agencies.

"The risks individuals and countries face in cyberspace are only increasing, and we must build on our capacity to combat those risks — not take needless steps backwards," Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and seven other House Democrats wrote in a letter to the president on Thursday. 

"We urge you to strongly reconsider this decision. America needs to send a strong message to allies and adversaries alike that we are committed to leading and solving complex cybersecurity issues," the letter continues.

Robert Palladino, a spokesman for the National Security Council (NSC), told The Hill in a statement earlier this week there will be two top senior directors who will oversee the NSC's cyber operations.

“The National Security Council’s cyber office already has two very capable Senior Directors. Moving forward, these Senior Directors will coordinate cyber matters and policy. As they sit six feet apart from one another, they will be able to coordinate in real time," Palladino said on Tuesday.

"Today’s actions continue an effort to empower National Security Council Senior Directors. Streamlining management will improve efficiency, reduce bureaucracy and increase accountability."

The decision to nix the position was first reported by Politico, which obtained an email detailing the move.

The news outlet had previously reported that Trump's new national security adviser, John Bolton, was looking to end the position. Rob Joyce, the latest official to hold this position, left on Friday, joining a handful of other national security officials who have recently departed the White House.

“The role of cyber coordinator will end,” Christine Samuelian, an aide to Bolton, reportedly said in the email to NSC staffers, suggesting it would help eliminate cumbersome bureaucratic layers.

The lawmakers in the letter cite the upcoming 2018 midterm elections; "increased tensions" with other countries like China, Russia and Iran; and the need to be able to respond to threats or attacks swiftly as further need for a cybersecurity expert to navigate the administration through rising digital dangers. 

"Whether it is attacks on our financial sector, energy sector, industry or even political campaigns we cannot let these go unanswered and leave ourselves open for future attacks," they wrote.

Reps. Denny Heck (D-Wash.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Dina Titus (D-Nev.), Jim Himes (D-Conn.), Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) also signed on to the bill.

Other Democratic lawmakers have also voiced opposition to this decision, including Reps. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), who jointly introduced a bill this week that would establish a high-level cyber advisory position within the Executive Office of the President.

Lieu told The Hill that eliminating the cyber coordinator position was a "monumentally stupid" decision.

Langevin also expressed disappointment, calling the move "short-sighted." 

"Up until this point I was pleased with the direction that the Trump administration was going and better protecting the country in cyberspace," Langevin told The Hill.

"Every administration, going back to President Clinton, then President Bush, President Obama and including the Trump administration were taking positive steps to move the country forward to make sure we are better protected in cyber. This is the first time we are actually taking a step backwards."

Top House Republicans who deal with cyber, however, were not as quick to criticize the decision, saying they needed to learn more about the situation before they pass judgment.

"I'll be watching it to make sure it remains a priority in the White House. I know it is a priority in Department of Homeland Security," House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) told The Hill.

"We will see how it plays out," he added.

Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), a former CIA officer who oversees the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Information Technology, also said he has yet to be briefed on the "perceived value of this" decision. 

"For cybersecurity, you need to have a plan for it and that plan needs to come out of the National Security Council's entity on how we are going to be working together on this so it is an important issue for folks to continue to explore," Hurd added.