Last week, the Arizona Republican wrote to Senate leaders proposing the creation of a temporary Select Committee on Cybersecurity and Electronic Intelligence Leaks, which would produce “comprehensive” legislation on the subject.
No one on Capitol Hill needs persuading that the United States is vulnerable to attack on this front. Last week, the Pentagon revealed that thousands of files containing Defense Department data had been stolen from a defense industry computer network in March. Congress itself has been a hacking target multiple times.
But why get a new committee involved in the fight? Because too many committees are already involved in the fight.
McCain wrote that cybersecurity legislation “has been drafted by at least three committees and at least seven committees claim some jurisdiction over the issue.” He also noted that the White House and the Energy, Commerce and Defense departments have all put forward separate initiatives on the subject.
“With so many agencies and the White House moving forward with cyber security proposals, we must provide congressional leadership on this pressing issue of national security,” McCain wrote, adding that the best solution would be to have top Republicans and Democrats “step away from preserving their own committees’ jurisdiction.”
Put more simply, lawmakers hate giving up turf.
When the Homeland Security Department was created in 2002, for example, House and Senate committees bickered over which would oversee it, just as other Cabinet departments fought against ceding any agencies or authority to the new entity.
So it’s not surprising that the two leaders of the panel with perhaps the most to lose — the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee — are not big fans of McCain’s proposal.
Chairman Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and ranking member Susan Collins (R-Maine) wrote back to McCain last week that their panel has already made significant progress on the cybersecurity front, so “[i]t would be a real mistake and a waste of time to restart the process when so much work has already been done.”
McCain isn’t the first senator to have this idea. In his own letter responding to McCain, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) pointed out that he had proposed a similar select committee on cybersecurity in 2009.
“Unfortunately, there was not support for this effort and, in fact, significant opposition,” Reid wrote. “In light of this response, I did not want to spend months or years in a perhaps fruitless effort to establish a Select Committee, rather than working on critical legislation and oversight.”
Instead, Reid this year suggested the formation of “bipartisan working groups” that would collaborate across committee lines. So far, he has not gotten feedback from the Republican leadership on the idea.