Rich Cooper

Jun 2, 2009

Last Friday, the President confirmed what has been an open secret for months.  America is getting a Cyber Czar to look after the country’s most complex, interdependent and increasingly vulnerable infrastructures.

All the right words were spoken.  All the right reasons were given.

There is no doubt that the Administration firmly understands the potential consequences associated with the country’s cyber vulnerabilities and no community, industry, infrastructure or citizen is immune or unaffected by the threat.  

The position the President has established is a juggernaut of responsibilities, and his personal commitment in selecting this individual should not go unnoticed.  This President made it known last week in the great Harry Truman tradition that “the buck stops” with him.

As commendable as the President’s seriousness on this issue may be, the position that has been created is already anchored under a tsunami of water – which will make the individual chosen to hold it an unfortunate victim of forces far beyond his/her control.  

In Washington, like many places, where you sit and where you report mean a lot.  

The Cyber Czar as outlined by the White House will be part of a newly restructured National Security Council.  This person will also report to the National Security Advisor and Chair of the National Economic Council – two of the most senior positions in the White House.  Per the President’s announcement, this individual will also have direct access to him and will provide advice and direction to the Administration on policies, programs and budgets across the federal government.  

That’s a tremendous portfolio, but it’s missing the essential ingredient that makes the powers that be in Washington really pay attention.  

The power of the purse.

If you don’t control money in Washington, you don’t control squat.    

If you can’t move program or budgetary dollars around, no one pays attention to you.

Do you want to know why Congressional Members battle another to become appropriators?  

Because appropriators control MONEY!

Do you want to know why the letters O, M and B are the three most powerful letters in the alphabet?  

Because OMB controls MONEY!

If we have learned anything over the course of our history when Czar-like positions are created it is simply this…

The entrenched, turf-protecting, rice bowl owners that have run their respective programs for centuries (well it seems like centuries) will do the proverbial head-bob of agreement and declare, “Yes I agree we should do that,” when an Administration directive comes out. They will then proceed to go about doing their thing the way they always have – and ignore the new direction that has been imparted.  

Do I sound cynical?  I am, and I don’t want to be.  We can’t afford to fail in this environment.

While the Administration has admitted to internal squabbling on where the Cyber Czar should sit and report to, if they really want this position to succeed they would have the Cyber Czar report directly to the Office of Management and Budget.  That would have fired a cannon shot right across everyone’s bows and gotten the attention of the ENTIRE federal apparatus.
Not until you threaten someone’s budget by cutting it, reprogramming it or just outright absconding with it will the federal apparatus pay attention. 

It’s a simple rule in Washington as it is anywhere in life – if you control the checkbook, everyone pays attention to your direction.  Otherwise they blow you off.

Want proof?  Ask a Congressional Member or staffer on who gets their phone call or question answered faster – an appropriator or an authorizer?

Want further proof?  Watch an OMB Examiner in action during budget submission season or during “Pass-Back.”

We can’t afford to blow off anything in the realm of cyber security.  The position that the President has established is far too important to allow the politics of usual to succeed.  For that success to happen, though, you need the most important super power in Washington – money control.

Without it, history will repeat itself (again).


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