Official's departure revives push for promoting DHS cyber chief

New proposal would elevate the position from director to assistant secretary.

The abrupt departure last week of Amit Yoran as a top cybersecurity official appears to have breathed new life into congressional efforts to elevate the position within the Homeland Security Department.

Within hours after news Friday that Yoran, director of the department's national cybersecurity division, had quit with one day's notice, staff from various congressional committees met to discuss the issue, government sources said. Earlier in the week, the issue had appeared finished for the year over seemingly insurmountable committee jurisdictional differences.

A new, trimmed provision to raise cybersecurity's status in Homeland Security appeared in Monday's Rules Committee version of an intelligence reform bill, H.R. 10. The new provision would elevate cyber security two levels, from director to assistant secretary, and give the new assistant secretary primary authority over the National Communications System.

Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America, said on Tuesday that the inclusion of the amendment "means the issue will not be an afterthought" in government. "Unfortunately, it had to take a fairly high-level departure" for it to get included, Miller said. "Certainly [Yoran's] departure served to re-energize the issue."

One attendee insisted that the congressional meeting was not a reaction to Yoran's departure but rather an attempt to meet the Friday deadline set by House leadership for amendments to the intelligence bill.

Yoran's departure caused a stir at senior levels of the Bush administration, an administration source said Monday. Yoran met with Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge the day before his departure. After the announcement, Robert Liscouski, assistant secretary for critical infrastructure and Yoran's boss, was harshly criticized by the White House Homeland Security Council, the source said.

Yoran sent a farewell e-mail to colleagues Sunday night cataloguing dozens of accomplishments of his office during his year there.

The original language to elevate cyber security in the department contained several pages of specific authority for the department. A competing bill from the House Government Reform Committee emerged last week and was viewed by some as an attempt to wrest back primary jurisdiction over cybersecurity.

Friday's meeting included staff from the Government Reform, Homeland Security, Judiciary and Science committees. "We're pleased that the negotiations were productive," Science Committee Chief of Staff David Goldston said. "We were able to limit the provision to a notion on which there was broad agreement."

Still in the House intelligence bill is a provision that would add a specific mention of information security to agencies' systems-planning requirements. The Rules Committee may vote on the bill Wednesday, with floor action expected Thursday.

If passed by the House, the issue will be addressed in House-Senate negotiations.

The original House language was offered as an amendment to the Senate intelligence reform bill Monday but was ruled non-germane to the bill by the parliamentarian, sources said. That amendment was more extensive in the responsibilities it would have given the next cyber-security chief.