The House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday unanimously agreed to authorize the Department of Homeland Security’s National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) to become the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Protection Agency, a change that recognizes the operational nature of the directorate in helping to protect the nation’s cyber and critical infrastructures.

“This measure realigns and streamlines the department’s cyber security and infrastructure protection missions to more effectively protect the American public against cyber attacks that can cripple the nation,” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the committee chairman, said in introducing the bill.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and co-chair of the House Cybersecurity Caucus . Photo: U.S. House of Representatives.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and co-chair of the House Cybersecurity Caucus .
Photo: U.S. House of Representatives.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Protection Agency Act of 2016 (H.R. 5390) directs that the agency will be headed by a Director of National Cybersecurity who will also be responsible for coordinating with federal and non-federal entities and international partners on cyber security and infrastructure protection policy and operations. The agency shall also consist of a Cybersecurity Division, an Infrastructure Protection Division, the Emergency Communications Division, and the Federal Protective Service.

Currently NPPD carries out its operational cyber security missions through a round-the-clock watch center called the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) that shares information about threats with public and private sector partners. The NCCIC also includes the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team, better known as US-CERT, and the Industrial Control Systems CERT.

Under the bill the NCCIC would be part of the Cybersecurity Division.

NPPD also manages the EINSTEIN cyber intrusion, detection and prevention platform to safeguard federal networks from threats emanating from outside federal networks.

The committee by voice vote approved a number of amendments to the cyber bill, including one directing DHS to conduct more systematic information sharing with state and major urban area fusion centers on cyber threats.

The realignment of NPPD into an operating agency was requested by DHS last year. The Senate must also take up the authorization request.

The House committee also unanimously approved by voice vote a number of other homeland security bills on Wednesday. The Strong Visa Integrity Secures America Act (H.R. 5253) offered by Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) would close gaps to terrorists in the U.S. Visa Security Program. The bill directs DHS to deploy more specially trained units to high risk consular posts where visas are issued.

The committee also approved by voice vote an amendment by Rep. Dan Donovan (R-N.Y.) to Hurd’s bill that authorizes DHS to review social media accounts of visa applicants who are citizens of or reside in high risk countries to enhance visa vetting.

“This would allow DHS to zero on individuals who represent the greatest risk to our nation should they be allowed to enter,” Donovan said.

Other bills approved by the committee include:

·         The Gains in Global Nuclear Detection Architecture Act (H.R. 5391), introduced by Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), which calls for the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office to develop and maintain a technology roadmap and strategy on how research investments align gaps in the global nuclear detection architecture;

·         The Support for Rapid Innovation Act of 2016 (H.R. 5388), offered by Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), calls for the DHS Science and Technology branch to research, develop, evaluate and improve technologies for detecting cyber attacks and intrusions, improve the ability to contain cyber attacks, and help transition to practice technologies and projects carried out under the bill;

·         The Leveraging Emerging Technologies Act of 2016 (H.R. 5389), also introduced by Ratcliffe, directing that DHS work with innovative and emerging technology developers to address homeland security needs, and establish personnel and office space in geographic areas of the U.S. with high concentrations of these developers;

·         The Improving Small Business Cyber Security Act of 2016 (H.R. 5064), introduced by Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), would improve cyber security outreach for small businesses; and

·         The Quadrennial Homeland Security Review Technical Correction Act of 2016 (H.R. 5385), offered by Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), seeks to improve the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review done by DHS.

Separately, on Tuesday the House passed an aviation security bill, the Checkpoint Optimization and Efficiency Act of 2016 (H.R. 5338) that gives flexibility to local Transportation Security Administration officials to reallocate personnel as needed, and increases transparency and coordination among the agency, airports, airlines, and labor organizations.