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White House Experiences Resignations of Cybersecurity Advisors

By: Connor Breza


In August the Trump administration lost several high-ranking cybersecurity officials. The Hill reported that the National Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIAC), the Homeland Security Department responsible for advising the president on cybersecurity and infrastructure, lost 25% of its panel in a group resignation. The resigning officers released a letter, published by Nextgov, detailing their personal motivations behind leaving the administration, and stating that the current administration has not demonstrated that it “is adequately attentive to the pressing national security matters within the NIAC’s purview, or responsive to sound advice received from experts and advisors on these matters”.


Also reported in August was the resignation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s chief information security officer Sean Kelley, who started his position at the beginning of 2016. Several other cybersecurity officers have resigned individually as well, including Homeland Security chief information officer (CIO) Richard Staropoli. Mr. Staropoli reportedly served for roughly three months before announcing that he would be resigning in the beginning of September. According to The Hill, September will also bring the resignation of the Office of Personnel Management’s CIO Dave DeVries, resigning after roughly one year. The Navy also lost its CIO Rob Foster in August, who Fedscoop reports will be rejoining the private sector.


Although the government has historically competed with the private sector to fill positions, these recent resignations may give applicants pause, potentially leaving hard to fill vacancies. Corresponding with The Hill, Michael Daniel, the Obama Administration’s cybersecurity coordinator stated that, “When you have personnel vacancies at the top, the impact is felt on long-term cybersecurity efforts and incident response,” and explained, “[f]or the first, you don’t have someone to drive the needed policy changes and oversee implementation. For the second, you don’t have a leader to manage the response efforts.”


As the month of August closed, The Hill further reported that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced his intention to “eliminate the position of cybersecurity coordinator and fold the functions of the cyber office into a bureau in charge of business and economic affairs.” The Hill explains that this proposal is “part of a broader effort by Tillerson to reorganize and streamline the State Department’s functions.”


The Secretary of State asserted that, “I believe that the Department will be able to better execute its mission by integrating certain envoys and special representatives within the regional and functional bureaus, and eliminating those that have accomplished or outlived their original purpose.” Tillerson continued, stating that “[i]n some cases, the State Department would leave in place several positions and offices, while in other cases, positions and offices would be either consolidated or integrated with the most appropriate bureau.”


With the implementation of the president’s Executive Order, it will be necessary for the administration to move ahead despite these resignations and reforms, and attempt to live up to the administration’s cyber policy goals.


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