House homeland security panel expects to win cybersecurity turf battle

House aides on the Homeland Security Committee believe that they will get a referral for a recently introduced cybersecurity bill.

The newly permanent House Homeland Security Committee is likely to win the first turf battle over cybersecurity issues in the 109th Congress.

Texas Republican Mac Thornberry and California Democrat Zoe Lofgren on Thursday re-introduced in the 109th Congress a bill on the issue from last year. House aides on the Homeland Security Committee believe that they will get a referral for the legislation from the House parliamentarian's office and House Speaker Dennis Hastert. Last year, the Homeland Security and Science committees snagged referrals.

The legislation comes on the heels of new House rules, approved Tuesday, that created a permanent Homeland Security Committee with redefined jurisdiction. In that Rules Committee package, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton, R-Texas, attached language to retain his panel jurisdiction over cybersecurity issues.

"The [Republican] conference made a rational decision in keeping jurisdiction over cyber terrorism with the people who already understand what it is and how to deal with it," Barton said in a statement Tuesday.

Many of the lawmakers that sit on Homeland Security were angered that Barton was able to strip them of exclusive authority over the issue. But Homeland Security Chairman Christopher Cox, R-Calif., said Tuesday that his panel still would retain jurisdiction over counter-terrorism-related cyber issues.

"We're not out of the cybersecurity business," one Homeland Security Committee aide said.

The bill in question would elevate the role of cybersecurity within the Homeland Security Department by creating a position for an assistant secretary for cyber security within the division on information analysis and infrastructure protection. Cyber security currently falls under the responsibility of the assistant secretary for infrastructure protection in the directorate for information analysis and infrastructure protection.

Thornberry and Lofgren, the subcommittee chairman and ranking Democrat of the Homeland Security Cybersecurity Subcommittee, successfully attached their measure last year to the House's intelligence package. However, the language was deleted from the final package that became law last month.

Thornberry, Lofgren and other lawmakers have criticized the department for not paying enough attention and dedicating enough resources to the issue. They sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge last August raising concerns about a vulnerability assessment on critical infrastructure and key assets, including "cyber infrastructure."

They cited possible inconsistencies in the process for creating a database of some 33,000 critical assets and sites nationwide and requested a deadline for completion of the vulnerability assessment.

Meanwhile, the Homeland Security Department's cybersecurity division is holding a "stakeholder retreat" from Wednesday to Friday this week in Wye River, Md., according to a department source. The objective of the retreat is to provide an overview of the division's program and initiatives, develop public-private partnerships and hear private-sector views. The meeting is expected to be the first of a series.