Congress set to establish White House national cyber director, enact other Solarium Commission recommendations

Congress is also set to hand CISA administrative subpoena powers and direct the executive branch to conduct "continuity of the economy" planning.
(Flickr / Hannah Rosen)

Congress is on the verge of creating a Senate-confirmed national cyber director within the White House who would advise the president on cybersecurity and coordinate the federal government’s related work.

And supporters say it would improve on a White House czar position that President Donald Trump controversially eliminated: In addition to Senate confirmation, it would be housed outside of, rather than under, the National Security Council.

Multiple sources familiar with negotiations on an annual must-pass defense policy bill say that the final agreement will include the national cyber director position. And it will largely reflect a proposal by the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, which earlier this year put together a comprehensive report that made sweeping recommendations. The Trump White House had opposed the creation of the position.

It’s not the only major recommendation from the commission that was included in the legislation, either, according to those sources. Another provision would grant the Department of Homeland Security the power to issue administrative subpoenas to internet service providers to track down critical infrastructure owners when the department’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) discovers a vulnerability but can’t get in touch.


The bill would direct the executive branch to conduct “continuity of the economy” planning to ensure that goods and services can still flow in the event of a devastating cyberattack. It would establish a joint cyber planning office at CISA. And it would order a force structure assessment of the Cyber Mission Force at Cyber Command, whose requirements were last defined in 2013.

The defense legislation could be released as soon as Thursday, and while Trump has threatened to veto it over unrelated matters, Congress will almost certainly have the votes to override if he follows through on it.

‘An empowered senior adviser’

President Barack Obama had established a White House cybersecurity coordinator within the National Security Council, but Trump got rid of it midway through his term in 2018 amid bipartisan protest on Capitol Hill.

“Given the complex nature of cybersecurity and its importance to our national security, economic security, and foreign policy, the president needs an empowered senior adviser focused on this issue,” Michael Daniel, who held the coordinator position under Obama, wrote in in a CyberScoop op-ed in favor of the proposal for a more powerful national cyber director position.


The newly proposed position would be on a short list of White House officials who are Senate-confirmed. Placing the role outside the National Security Council would elevate its visibility.

“A Senate confirmed leader that demonstrates the weight both Congress and the Executive branch put on the issue is necessary to meet the moment,” Camille Stewart, a former DHS official, wrote in another CyberScoop op-ed.

POLITICO first reported that the national cyber director position would be included in the defense bill.

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