House panel, company withdraw support for public-private cybersecurity group

Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., the chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, has decided not to allow the panel's staff director to co-chair an advisory board of government cybersecurity chiefs and corporate members who had agreed to pay as much as $75,000 to participate in the group.

The advisory group, known as the CISO Exchange, developed in a way with which the Government Reform Committee was not comfortable, said Davis's spokesman, David Marin. He said that Davis still supports the goals of the CISO Exchange, but almost certainly will withdraw all official support for the endeavor.

Also, a spokeswoman for Computer Sciences Corp. said that Austin Yerks, president of business development for the company's federal sector, had decided not to serve on the advisory board of the CISO Exchange, as had been announced last week.

"We backed out," said CSC spokeswoman Denise Vesia, adding that Yerks "shares Chairman Davis' concerns." She said CSC had not signed a contract to join the organization, nor paid any money to participate.

Several organizations, including Government Executive, hold events that industry organizations pay to sponsor or attend. But the creation of the CISO Exchange raised questions about whether companies were paying large sums for direct access to key government officials and the opportunity to participate in writing reports that would carry the government's imprimatur.

According to last week's announcement, the advisory board of the CISO Exchange would direct the writing of an annual report on government cybersecurity issues and determine what other companies could join the organization at two lower levels of involvement, costing $25,000 and $5,000.

Davis announced the creation of the CISO Exchange on Feb. 16 after unveiling his latest cybersecurity grades for federal agencies in the Government Reform Committee's meeting room.

Last week, O'Keeffe and Co., an Alexandria, Va.-based marketing and public relations firm that is managing the CISO Exchange, unveiled the group's advisory board membership. The announcement said the board would be co-chaired by Melissa Wojciak, the Government Reform Committee's staff director, and Vance Hitch, the Justice Department's chief information officer.

The announcement said CSC and Herndon, Va.-based NetSec would serve as "industry fellows" on the advisory board. Each firm agreed to pay $75,000 in annual membership fees for seats. NetSec did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The announcement also said that the following federal officials would serve on the advisory board:
  • Daniel Galik, chief security officer, Internal Revenue Service.
  • Dennis Heretick, chief information security officer, Justice Department.
  • Robert Lentz, chief information security officer, Defense Department.
  • Jane Scott Norris, chief information security officer, State Department
  • Lisa Schlosser, chief information officer, Housing and Urban Development Department.
  • Robert West, chief information security officer, Homeland Security Department.

Since the announcement, Davis decided that Wojciak will not participate in the council because the CISO Exchange's structure has led to questions of whether the Government Reform Committee's name was being used to support a commercial undertaking.

"The way it was structured led to questions whether the Exchange's work product would have the committee's stamp on it," Marin said. "Davis wants to be absolutely clear that his support for the Exchange's goals do not imply that sponsors have some sort of inside track to him or to committee staff. The easiest way to answer those questions is to withdraw from being officially part of the organization."

"We're going to keep an eye on it and see how it evolves," Marin said. "If there is a way that we can informally participate, then we will."

Steve O'Keeffe, president of O'Keeffe and Co., said that the House committee and the CIO Council are "absolutely committed to going forward" with the CISO Exchange, but that the two organizations are "looking at the best structure and the right governance model" for it.

He said the CISO Exchange had "very strong corporate commitments," but that they could be subject to change "if the underlying structure" of the organization changes. O'Keeffe said no contracts had been signed and no checks written to the CISO Exchange, which is a project of Bonaparte Holdings, a for-profit firm incorporated by O'Keeffe a few years ago.

CSC's Vesia said Yerks would meet with O'Keeffe later this week about the future of the organization.

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