By Tim Starks and Rob Margetta
Rep. Michael McCaul's ascension to chairman of the Homeland Security Committee puts cybersecurity legislation squarely back on the forefront of the panel's agenda, after the committee's work was left off the House floor in the spring when GOP leaders brought up a slate of other cybersecurity bills.
The Texas Republican's own cybersecurity measure (HR 2096), which came out of the Science, Space and Technology Committee and focused on research and development, was one of the bills that passed in the spring. But McCaul believes the Homeland Security Committee needs to get involved, too, assuming the Senate -- which twice has fallen short of the votes needed to pass a broader cybersecurity bill (S 3414) -- cannot revive its legislative efforts to defend computer networks in the lame-duck session.
"I think cybersecurity will probably be the single highest priority in the next Congress," McCaul said in an interview this month about what he would do if he got the Homeland Security gavel. "Every day we wait, the threat gets worse. We need to pass a robust cybersecurity bill out of the Homeland Security Committee. That's what I would be committed to doing as chairman."
The bill that Homeland Security approved this year (HR 3674) ran afoul of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and, subsequently, GOP leadership. McCaul, though, said he had gotten "buy-in" from the high-tech community on his previous cybersecurity work. McCaul co-founded and currently co-chairs the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus, and also co-chaired the influential CSIS Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th Presidency.
McCaul said his other priorities would be threats from terrorist groups like al Qaeda and Hezbollah; securing the border; passing authorization bills for the Homeland Security Department; and shaping up management of the department. On Tuesday, the House passed legislation (HR 5913) by voice vote that McCaul sponsored to create an independent advisory panel that would study departmental management and recommend improvements. In a floor speech, McCaul said that department mismanagement was hampering security efforts, and that the bill's goal was to make the department a "leaner, smarter and more effective organization."
The top Democrat on the panel, Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, had urged all of the candidates to take over the committee gavel to renew efforts to consolidate jurisdiction over the Department of Homeland Security, currently spread out over dozens of committees and subcommittees. But McCaul said he was unlikely to resume that battle, and would instead rely on his past connections to other committees to disentangle any jurisdictional knots.
"The 9/11 Commission did recommend that one committee have jurisdiction," he said in the interview. "I recognize reality, though, and I think that would be very difficult. I know the secretary has to testify before multiple committees, but quite frankly I'm not running to have jurisdictional battles with my colleagues."
Another battle McCaul is unlikely to resume: outgoing Chairman Peter T. King's controversial hearings on domestic Islamic radicalization. Some critics of the New York Republican's hearings contended that they were discriminatory toward Muslims.
"Radicalization is important when you look at the internal threat in the United States," McCaul said, "but it's not the only issue. And I think that the committee does need to take up its legislative responsibilities." He added: "I wouldn't be having hearings to score political points or whatever."