Melissa Hathaway’s decision to leave the Administration simply confirms what everyone already knows – the Obama Administration’s cybersecurity initiative is being strangled in its crib.
The signs and portents for this have been clear for everyone to see. The much-balleyhooed 60-day review released in May was accompanied by …. silence. The President’s promise to “personally” select a cyberczar has gone unfulfilled. And anyone who looks at the recommended organizational structure (which has the czar reporting both to the head of the NSC, General Jones, and the head of the NEC, Larry Summers) realizes that whomever finally takes the job will be a “czar” in name only, with little authority.
The most important function that organization plays in Washington is as a signaling device. If the organizational structure we choose – a strong Cyberczar, for example — signifies high level attention and the ability to make decisions and get things done, we will have the right answer to our pressing cyberproblems. If the organizational structure signifies a diminished level of interest, then that will, effectively, doom the substance underlying any initiative.
Today, the opportunity exists for significant improvement through concerted effort – but Hathaway’s decision to leave (and the delay in general in moving forward) suggest that the cyberinitiative is faltering for lack of high-level engagement.
And that would be a shame. As other countries ramp up their cyberengagement, this is not a time for our attention to be distracted.