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Senator asks DHS for cybersecurity documents

A key Republican senator is calling on the Department of Homeland Security to hand over documents that may show why its cybersecurity program is flawed.

The top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Committee is requesting detailed information, including financial figures, from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to explain why the department has been seemingly unable to fulfill its cybersecurity responsibilities.

Sen. Susan Collins
Sen. Susan Collins

In a letter sent to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano on Tuesday, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said that in light of the recent resignation of National Cybersecurity Center Director Rod Beckström, she would like DHS to send the Homeland Security Committee a number of documents to show how the department spent its $6 million NCSC budget and provided other means of support for the NCSC.

In a resignation letter turned in earlier this month, Beckström said, "the NCSC did not receive appropriate support inside DHS during the last administration to fully realize (its) vital role."

Collins said in her letter to Napolitano that she was very concerned by Beckstrom's assertion, especially given the authority the NCSC has been granted.

"The Committee needs to understand more fully how and why the NCSC was allegedly marginalized in spite of its prominent role outlined in the (Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Intitiative) and described by (former DHS) Secretary (Michael) Chertoff," Collins' letter says.

The letter asks DHS to send Collins the following documents:

* a detailed breakdown of the budgets for 2009 through 2013 for both the NCSC and the the National Cybersecurity Division;

* copies of any and all contracts entered into to establish and operate the NCSC, including any that may have been canceled;

* copies of any documentation related to the cancellation of computers, network equipment, furniture, or office space for the NCSC;

* copies of any and all Department Management Directives related to the establishment and operation of the NCSC;

* copies of the portions of former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff's schedule that show the dates, times, and duration of his meetings with Beckstrom;

* copies of the portions of Napolitano's schedule, after her confirmation as DHS secretary, that show the dates, times, and duration of her meetings with Beckström;

* copies of documents related to physically locating the NCSC at any facility controlled by the National Security Agency;

* copies of documents related to placing NCSC under the control of anyone other than the Homeland Security secretary.

Collins requested that the information be provided within 14 days, so it can be reviewed before the completion of the government-wide, 60-day cybersecurity review the National Security Council's Acting Senior Director of Cybersecurity Melissa Hathaway is currently conducting for the president. The review is already past its halfway point.

Through commissioning the review in the National Security Council, President Obama may have been indicating he is interested in shaking up cybersecurity jurisdiction.

Two other key senators, Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) and Republican Olympia Snowe (Collins' colleague from Maine), are drafting legislation that would move cybersecurity responsibilities to the White House under the auspices of a national cybersecurity adviser.

Despite calls to move cybersecurity away from DHS, Collins said in her letter, "I continue to support giving the Department, and more specifically the NCSC, these authorities."

The NCSC was established in early 2008 as part of the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Intitiative. In a June response to questions from the Senate regarding the NCSC's role, Chertoff said the NCSC was intended to "serve a principal role as a single location for all-source situational awareness about cybersecurity and security status of the U.S. Networks and systems."

In September 2008, Collins and Senate Homeland Security Committee Chair Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) introduced broadened NCSC authorities within the 2008-2009 DHS authorization bill.

Collins is not the only member of Congress publicly supporting the current DHS cybersecurity programs.

Representative Sue Myrick (R-N.C.) sent a letter to Napolitano on March 19, asking the secretary to avoid restructuring the department in a manner that would weaken the three components of the Office of Cybersecurity and Communications--the National Cybersecurity Division, the National Communications System, and the Office of Emergency Communications.

"Congress partnered these components under an assistant secretary within DHS precisely because it was understood that each unique mission could leverage each other's skill and authorities to ensure we make most effective use of our homeland security resources," Myrick said in her letter.