The Department of Homeland Security’s lead infrastructure security official offered praise Tuesday for legislation the House has passed to reorganize the National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) to its own operational agency with critical infrastructure protection authorities, including over election systems.

The bill, passed yesterday in the House by a voice vote, renames and elevates the NPPD as the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency and grants the office greater cyber security authorities for critical infrastructure systems.

Christopher Krebs, the Department of Homeland Security Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Under Secretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate
Christopher Krebs, the Department of Homeland Security Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Under Secretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate

Christopher Krebs, who currently leads NPPD efforts, believes CISA is a major step toward building on authorities needed to ensure election system integrity ahead of future foreign interference campaigns.

The bill, sponsored by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), has yet to receive serious discussion in the Senate but Krebs hopes that process will start soon.

“I’m looking forward to working closely with the Senate. We’re in pretty deep conversation with Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on what the Senate side looks like,” Krebs said at a Tuesday press briefing. “We’d obviously like to move this quicker, and sooner rather than later, but the real kudos goes to Chairman McCaul and his team for moving so aggressively on this.”

The bill designates DHS to appoint a National Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Director to lead the new CISA and oversee efforts to work with state and local officials on improving election system infrastructure.

The Obama administration designated election systems as critical infrastructure allowing NPPD to offer information sharing, technical support and incident response opportunities with election officials. DHS has also established a Sector Coordinating Council to bring industry together to share best practices on securing the integrity of election equipment.

“My entire approach that I’m bringing in the NPPD, and hopefully soon CISA, is to figure out what is the requirement? What do industry and our stakeholders need? We are fundamentally a voluntary organization. I’m not a law enforcement agency. I’m not a regulatory agency. So it’s incumbent upon us then to identify what those requirements are, ensure that our deliverables and services align to satisfy that requirement,” said Krebs.

Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Protection, believes the new CISA structure will provide greater flexibility to accomplish this election security mission.

“One of my primary goals as a lawmaker is to be a productive steward of our country’s cybersecurity posture, and this stems from a fundamental obligation to safeguard the American people. By authorizing the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency within DHS, we’re establishing the structure, the nomenclature and the flexibility we need to ensure we’re successfully achieving this goal,” Ratcliffe said in a statement.

While states are not required to accept DHS’ election system security assistance, McCaul sees CISA offering enhanced services for increasingly complex cyber challenges.

“With the advancement of technology and our increased dependence on computer networks, nation states, hackers, and cyber criminals are finding new ways to attack our cyber infrastructure and expose vulnerabilities. This re-alignment will achieve DHS’s goal of creating a stand-alone operational organization, focusing on and elevating its vital cyber security and infrastructure security missions to strengthen the security of digital America and our nation’s critical infrastructure,” McCaul said in a statement.

No companion legislation has been discussed in the Senate, but Krebs said he was cautiously optimistic that the bill may be considered in the first quarter of next year.

New DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen offered her support for the CISA bill, and believes the legislation will receive support as her department begins conversations with the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee.

“I want to personally thank Chairman McCaul for his tireless work to reach this important milestone in furtherance of the Department of Homeland Security’s mission. This legislation, which has bipartisan support, has been a priority of this Administration from day one. I look forward to continuing to work with Congress to move this important legislation forward,” Nielsen said in a statement.