Homeland Security inches toward makeover

Spending bill, scheduled for president's signature Tuesday, backs earlier reorg plan to further empower cybersecurity.

Anne Broache
Anne Broache Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Anne Broache
covers Capitol Hill goings-on and technology policy from Washington, D.C.
2 min read
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is on its way to an organizational makeover, thanks to a bill that President Bush is scheduled to sign on Tuesday.

According to a final report that accompanies the Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2006, lawmakers from both houses agreed to move all "infrastructure protection and information security programs," which include cybersecurity, into a "Preparedness Directorate" proposed in July as part of Secretary Michael Chertoff's plan to restructure the department.

The directorate is slated to include a medley of new officials, including an assistant secretary for cybersecurity and telecommunications.

The bill makes no direct mention of money for the cybersecurity secretary role. But it's not up to the committee to design the makeup of Homeland Security offices, a U.S. Senate Appropriations committee aide said Monday. She said the department could use its allotment to create the position if it wishes to do so.

The department declined to elaborate on its plans. "We continue to anticipate that the proposals put forward by the secretary under the Second Stage Review will be enacted," Kirk Whitworth, a Homeland Security spokesman, said in an e-mail.

Since the department's creation, its top cybersecurity official has held a low to midlevel role several layers below the secretary. Some members of Congress and industry representatives have been clamoring for a more powerful post, but so far, action has stalled.

The latest spending bill allocates $93.3 million under the broad heading of cybersecurity, earmarking $30 million for "national cybersecurity exercises and outreach." An unspecified portion is supposed to fund the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team, a group charged with analyzing cyberthreats and coordinating incident-response activities in public and private sectors.

The bill also sets aside a separate $16.7 million to fund cybersecurity research, placing the category third from the bottom of the list for research and development spending. The biggest chunk for the upcoming year, $380 million, would go to financing work on "biological countermeasures."