New Defense Bill Would Reestablish Cybersecurity Position Previously Nixed by Trump Administration

A provision to establish a national cybersecurity director at the White House has been included in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which outlines the budget for national defense spending. In 2018, the administration of President Donald Trump eliminated a similar position.

James Langevin wearing a suit and tie sitting on a stage: The 2021 National Defense Authorization Act could provide for a new national director of cybersecurity, according to Rhode Island Congressman Jim Langevin.

© Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for The Buoniconti Fund To Cure Paralysis/Getty
The 2021 National Defense Authorization Act could provide for a new national director of cybersecurity, according to Rhode Island Congressman Jim Langevin.

Rhode Island Democrat Congressman Jim Langevin, a senior member of the House Armed Servies Committee, co-introduced separate legislation in June to create the position. The provision included in the 2021 NDAA is based on that legislation, known as the National Cyber Director Act.

“I’ve been working on bolstering our nation’s cybersecurity for more than a decade, and it is abundantly clear the country needs someone in charge of cybersecurity at the highest levels of government,” Langevin said in a statement sent to Newsweek on Thursday.

“The inclusion of the National Cyber Director Act in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act brings us closer to establishing an overarching and more effective cyber strategy to protect the nation,” Langevin continued. “With increased reliance on information technology infrastructure for communication, commerce and personal use, as well as national security purposes, it is more critical than ever that there is an expert bringing all the elements of government together and ensuring that we are pulling oars in the same direction to protect Americans.”

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According to the statement, the National Cyber Director would wield both budgetary and policy authority to “oversee development and implementation of the national cyber strategy and to coordinate national cyber incident response efforts.”

After the House of Representatives takes up the NDAA in December, it will be sent to the Senate. If it passes the Senate, it will be left to President Donald Trump to sign the NDAA into law. Trump has threatened to veto the NDAA unless Section 230, a law that protects social media platforms from litigation over the posting of some illegal matter by third-parties, is removed.

If the NDAA is approved, the choice of who will become the U.S. Cyber Director could potentially be left to President-elect Joe Biden. Whoever is nominated to the position would face confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate.

In 2009, the administration of former President Barack Obama created the position of White House Cybersecurity Coordinator. Obama chose Howard Schmidt as his first cyber czar. Schmidt was responsible for integrating governmental cyber policies, ensuring that government agencies had the proper funding to handle cybersecurity issues and coordinate responses to computer attacks.

During Trump’s administration, the position was left vacant in 2018 by then-White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Rob Joyce, who took a position within the National Security Agency. In May of that year, the White House got rid of the position entirely.

Democrats criticized the elimination of the role. In a statement at the time, Democrat California Representative Ted Lieu called the White House’s decision “outrageous, especially given that we’re facing more hostile threats from foreign adversaries than ever before.”

In a 2019 executive order, Trump called for the creation of programs designed to highlight the importance of cybersecurity within the government, including a “rotational program where Federal employees can expand their cybersecurity expertise through temporary reassignments to other agencies.”

“America built the internet and shared it with the world,” Trump wrote. “Now we will do our part to secure and preserve cyberspace for future generations.”

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