We have devoted not one but two consecutive issues of the Tech Policy & Security newsletter to the recent personnel shakeup at the Department of Homeland Security's National Cyber Security Division. With that in mind, it seems necessary to point out that things could be worse; President Bush could have cut the division's budget instead of pumping it up.
But pump it up he did -- the president added an extra $2.1 million to the 2005 budget for a grand total of $67.4 million. The money comes as part of an $894 million allocation earmarked for Homeland Security's Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection unit, itself a 7 percent increase over 2004 spending levels.
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While $2.1 million isn't considered a prodigious amount by government standards, it's a welcome boost to the division. Many computer security experts say cyber-security has been overlooked in favor of protecting more tangible targets like buildings and bridges.
The division also has been the subject of some mixed messages in the department after Secretary Tom Ridge said its director should be an assistant secretary rather than a deputy. The department's PR gatekeepers took back the statement later the same day. That media mix-up came just after the division's director, security entrepreneur Amit Yoran, resigned with one day's notice in a move that many observers said was made precisely because the position lacked the requisite authority. Yoran, of course, was replaced for the time being by deputy Andy Purdy.
Dan Burton, vice president of government relations at Addison, Tex.-based security firm Entrust, said the increase does not signal any new changes in the department's priorities for the cyber-security division. "The fact that they're funding it is good, the fact that there's an increase is good," Burton said. "We still need to match it with more clout."
The Bush and Kerry campaigns are throwing their e-mail pitch operations into high gear, despite the lack of quantifiable evidence that the Internet serves any better purpose for presidential races than a convenient source of multiple small-money donations. "Both have transformed their Web sites into virtual campaign offices that offer an array of tools. After feeding online supporters a steady diet of hard-hitting Web videos -- designed to stir their partisan juices -- the campaigns are now urging them to use those tools to help spin the media, contact voters and get out the vote," The Washington Post reported. "But whether all this translates into results is not a sure thing."
The Post said that the campaigns are working hard at collecting supporters' e-mail addresses (6 million for Bush-Cheney, 2.5 million for Kerry-Edwards, according to their media shops) to try to get their owners not just to donate, but to "turn off the computer, lace up your sneakers and do some old-fashioned on-the-street politics." The grail that would mark their success, the article said, rests on whether they can take the Howard Dean machine that made the Internet so attractive for that failed campaign and get rid of the gremlins that helped do in the former Vermont governor.
Meanwhile, the Post's Jeffrey Birnbaum in his "K Street Confidential" column profiled conservative direct-mail guru Richard A. Viguerie. Viguerie's not-so-hot assessment for his team? "In terms of using the Internet for political activism in recent years, the left is running circles around conservatives."
Robert MacMillan, washingtonpost.com Tech Policy Editor