menu

It was with a great deal of disappointment that I read the comments of James Lewis, CSIS’ Director of Technology and Public Policy Programs, about the decision of the Commission on Cyber Security for the 44th Presidency not to offer any recommendation on Congressional oversight for cyber security.

As quoted in the NextGov reprint of the CongressDaily article, “We wanted to do things that could be achieved, that had a chance to get done in the first year,” Lewis said in an interview. “And we decided congressional reform was not in that category.”

This was the ultimate ‘punt’ by some Grade A talent given the immense task the Commission accepted in making strategic recommendations on cyber security to the next President.   From my point of view, ignoring Congressional oversight is an abdication of their leadership and responsibility on this issue.  I’m really disappointed by the Commission’s action, or should I say ‘inaction’ on this matter.

Regardless of who wins, every new President is afforded a honeymoon period where they are able to get just about everything they want from Congress.  With an Obama victory all but certain and bigger majorities for the Democrats in Congress an absolute guarantee, the stars could not align better for the 44th President to say to Congressional leaders, “If we are really serious about cyber security, I need you guys to help me with streamlining some things so we can keep this important mission focused and on track.”

Congressional oversight and how it is used (and abused) can have a dramatic impact upon how an Administration performs.  While it may be considered just ‘inside the Beltway baseball’ that much of America could care less about, no Administration team can succeed when it has a multitude of competing coaches pointing in different directions, all telling the player how to play ball.  In this case the Commission has given short-shrift to the type of ‘change’ and ‘gridlock fixing’ that both presidential candidates have made in their respective campaigns.

Would there be some push-back and grumbling by some of the ‘old bulls’ and newly invigorated Committee Chairmen at being asked to give up some of their oversight jurisdiction?  Sure there would, but if any of those Committee Chairman expect to see real progress from the incoming Administration on this issue, it is essential to give them the ability to do their jobs without every committee demanding countless appearances from its top officials at hearings or at private briefings.

Right now DHS has 86 oversight Committees and Subcommittees picking it to death.  If you take a look at the present committee structures for the House and Senate and the footprints that each one of them have in cyber security that 86 number will grow exponentially.

Cyber security impacts almost every Congressional Committee and giving every one of them oversight authority is a sure recipe for maximum gridlock.

It is unconscionable that the Commission would ignore addressing this obvious barrier to the 44th President’s success in this most critical area.

Is a recommendation on streamlining Congressional oversight a controversial issue that will annoy Members of Congress?  Yep, you bet it is but this Commission was specifically created to give our next President some of the best bipartisan and experienced counsel on one of the biggest and most complex challenges that will occur on his watch.  Offering him unvarnished counsel is what he needs to succeed. Skipping over the tough parts is something he does not.

Commissions such as this one have the responsibility to speak truth to power.  We saw that with the 9/11 Commission, the Iraq Study Group and several other efforts that put forward some tough words and truth when it needed to be heard.  While their recommendations were not always popular with those who were directly impacted, each of these commissions still had the courage to say what needed to be said. That should happen here as well.

I hope that before the Commission on Cyber Security issues its final report, it will show some of the leadership and character regularly demonstrated by its distinguished members.  Skipping the tough parts was not part of the Commission’s mission assignment.  Telling our nation’s next Chief Executive (and citizenry) what they need to know to be successful in thwarting cyber threats was part of its assignment and this Committee’s membership can and should deliver on that responsibility.

Much of our new President’s success can happen with effective, sensible and strategic oversight from Congress – something every American would like to see.  It would certainly make the 44th President’s job easier and its already going to be tough enough.  Responsible oversight would go a long way to ensuring his team’s overall success and that’s something we all need to have happen.

Rich Cooper blog primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More