Members of a bipartisan commission said Tuesday that Congress should strip the Department of Homeland Security of its lead role in protecting U.S. computer networks, as a government auditor said the department's efforts have been "completely ineffective."
"Our view is that any improvement in the nation´s cyber security must go outside of DHS to be effective," said James Lewis, of the Commission on Cyber-Security for the 44th Presidency, an effort to develop recommendations for the next administration on an issue increasingly seen as a vulnerability for the U.S.
Testifying before the House Homeland Security Committee, David Powner of the Government Accountability Office bluntly told lawmakers DHS is not meeting its mandate for defending the nation´s cyber networks and coordinating with the private sector, which owns almost all of the U.S. Internet infrastructure.
"Clearly our work has demonstrated that DHS has been completely ineffective in fulfilling their role as the cyber-security focal point," he said.
DHS was given the lead role in defending the nation´s civilian computer networks when the department was formed by a merger of 22 federal agencies in 2003, but it has struggled to make progress.
The issue has been highlighted over the last 18 months by several cyber attacks on small former Soviet nations, allegedly instigated by Moscow, and by extensive data theft from U.S. government systems, which officials have said originates in China.
DHS officials acknowledge that there is room for improvement in their cyber-security work, but argue that they need more time to get it right. Spokeswoman Laura Keehner accused the commission of "political posturing" and "shell games."
"Rearranging the deck chairs is a classic inside-the-Beltway pastime, but all that it ensures ... [is] that in two years the government's cyber efforts will be in the same place," she said, adding that the department was spending billions of dollars and "aggressively hiring several hundred analysts to further our mission of securing critical infrastructure."