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White House Clarifies Cybersecurity Leadership Roles

The roles of Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt, OMB and DHS are detailed in a memo intended to clear up possible confusion over changing roles in managing federal cybersecurity.

The Obama administration sought Tuesday to clear up confusion over which agencies control certain aspects of the federal government's cybersecurity requirements, releasing a memo that outlines the respective responsibilities of the Office of Management and Budget, the Cybersecurity Coordinator, and the Department of Homeland Security.

The cybersecurity roles and responsibilities of various agencies have been in flux over the course of the last year or so, with the Cybersecurity Coordinator being an entirely new position and DHS ramping up several new offices and new staff dedicated to cybersecurity.

The memo lays out Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt's role as leader of an interagency process for strategy and policy development, and OMB's role in submitting annual reports of agencies' compliance with the Federal Information Security Management Act to Congress and responsibility for developing, approving and having oversight of cybersecurity budgets and use of funds. However, most of the memo's attention is focused on clarifying the formal responsibilities of DHS.

Several bills floating around in Congress this session have variously sought to increase or decrease DHS' cybersecurity profile, while DHS' inspector general told the House Homeland Security Committee in June that DHS needed more authority to force compliance with DHS recommendations. The new White House memo may give DHS some of the cover it seeks.

The memo, signed by both Schmidt and Obama budget director Peter Orszag, informs agencies that the DHS will take over primary responsibility for operational cybersecurity with respect to certain parts of FISMA.

Specifically, DHS will be tasked with, among other things, overseeing implementation and reporting on cybersecurity policies and guidance, reviewing agency cybersecurity programs, and overseeing and assisting government-wide and agency cybersecurity efforts and incident response as well as FISMA compliance.

The Office of Management and Budget did not respond to requests for comment before publication.

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