Bloomberg News

Cybersecurity Bill in U.S. Senate Falls Behind Reid Schedule

February 06, 2012

Feb. 1 (Bloomberg) -- Senate cybersecurity legislation, facing resistance from industry groups over its potential cost, is falling behind schedule, Majority Leader Harry Reid said.

The legislation, which has yet to be formally introduced, was planned by Reid to be taken up by the full Senate before Feb. 17. When asked if he still plans to meet that deadline, Reid said today “it’d be hard to do,” adding that he didn’t have a new time line.

“I’m just going to do it as quickly as I can,” Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said in an interview. “I always make mistakes setting those deadlines.”

Congress and the administration of President Barack Obama are pursuing measures designed to shield vital infrastructure, including power grids and water-treatment plants, as hackers step up assaults on government and corporate systems.

The Senate bill would authorize the Homeland Security Department to identify infrastructure that’s considered critical to U.S. economic and national security and develop standards that must be met to protect them.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business-lobbying group, sent a letter to senators Jan. 30 saying that draft versions of the bill would be too costly and asking lawmakers to delay consideration.

Reid’s remarks regarding the legislation’s timing came after a classified briefing Wednesday by senior Obama administration officials, including Janet Napolitano, Homeland Security Department secretary.

Classified Briefing

The briefing was meant to convey a sense of urgency to senators for legislation, said Bruce McConnell, a counselor to Napolitano on cybersecurity matters.

“What we were here today to do was make sure the Senate understands the severity and importance of the threats that we’re facing and the need for action,” McConnell said in an interview. More than 50 senators from both parties attended the briefing, he said.

“Time is the biggest threat to getting a bill,” McConnell said. “I think it’s because the calendar is crowded.”

Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, said he was not optimistic about prospects for quick action on the measure.

“This is going to be a very complex bill, and we’ve got a long way to go before we get to a bill that’s going to be amenable,” he said in an interview.

In the House, a Homeland Security subcommittee today approved a bill that would create a U.S. organization to encourage government agencies and companies to share classified data on cybersecurity threats.

Representative Dan Lungren, the California Republican who heads the panel, said the bill’s intent is to use existing regulatory structures to strengthen cyberdefenses rather than create a new regulatory framework.

--Editors: Michael Shepard, Andrea Snyder

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Strohm in Washington at cstrohm1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Shepard at mshepard7@bloomberg.net


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