In his short time in office, Barack Obama has moved swiftly to address many of the problems facing the country: the financial crisis, the impending death of the auto industry and the lack of a playoff system in college football. But, despite his reassurances at a press conference in May, Obama has been stuck in neutral on the issue of cybersecurity.
Obama has said repeatedly that shoring up the country’s network defenses is one of his top priorities, emphasizing the key role that computers play in the country’s economy and daily operations. He has rightly pointed out how little attention was paid to security in the last few years, putting the United States well behind other countries in both offensive and defensive capabilities. And Obama has called on the private sector to play a more active and vocal role in the whole program, something that has been sorely lacking.
But the words, so far, have not been followed by much in the way of action. His call to action and his declaration that he will appoint a coordinator to oversee the country’s cybersecurity activities have generated plenty of commentary, but little else. Many observers have said that the speed with which he moves on appointing a coordinator–and the identity of that official–would be a key test of Obama’s commitment to this issue. If that is so, then the administration has not been up to the task.
Plenty of names have been kicked around in relation to the cybersecurity coordinator job, some old, some new. But none has inspired much excitement, and some of the candidates themselves have dismissed the job as ambiguous and unappealing.
“For this job to work you’d better get some understandings up front, if you’re the cyber czar and you want to have any clout in this,” Davis said during a panel discussion last month, according to Federal Computer Week. “At this point it’s unclear to me what the position would even entail, how much authority you would have.”
That’s been a common refrain among candidates, as well as among those who have held the job in the past. Many in the industry were hopeful that the new administration would bring change to the way the government handles cybersecurity, and there’s still plenty of time for that to happen. Things move slowly in Washington in the best of circumstances, and we’re far from that right now. There are many other immediate concerns for Obama, so it’s perhaps understandable that he hasn’t been as quick to move on security as we’d like.
But the time to move is now. The person who gets the coordinator job doesn’t have to be a perfect fit. If history is any guide, that person will only hold the position for a year or so, anyway. The key is to get someone in there who can start working on the issues and making some headway in repairing the relationships with the private sector that have been neglected for too long. Enough with the navel-gazing and meetings. It’s time for action.