But there’s a more practical consideration as well, Miller says. The assistant secretary position is two people removed from the president’s ear, instead of the five that exist now.
“Unless you’re a senior person, it’s tough to meet other senior people. It’s harder to get face time,” says Miller. “Washington is all about clout, real and perceived.”
Technology industry organizations on the hill that opposed the position’s elimination fear that without a senior-level person pushing for budgets and awareness, the nation risks a critical infrastructure attack, one that could cost multiple billions of dollars and possibly lives.
Right now, much of the discussion around cyber security involves hackers shutting down websites and stealing personal information. But with networked sensors and software-based operations at our nation’s power plants, petroleum refineries, and other critical locations, cyber-security proponents fear that someone might try to gain access to these points as part of a larger, coordinated attack with terrorism – not hacker hijinx – as a motive.
Further complicating the issue is the wide variance in security awareness among different industries and sectors. The finance industry, for example, is very much attuned to the issue of cyber security, whereas the agriculture, energy, and education sectors either don’t have the budget or don’t think the topic is a problem. Proponents say government-led initiatives, shepherded by an assistant secretary-level position, could help educate industries and the public, and work to protect against cyber attacks.
“The message the Department of Homeland Security is sending is that cyber security just isn’t that high of a priority,” says Miller.