Rich Cooper

Jan 27, 2010

The late, legendary comedian Rodney Dangerfield long complained about getting “no respect.”  After attending Wednesday morning’s Government Executive Leadership Series breakfast, “Cyber Security: Who Leads,” DHS may feel like using Rodney’s most memorable line to describe its placement in the federal cyber world. In what was a first-class discussion of the challenges and issues compounding the federal and international cyber-security environment, nary a word was mentioned about DHS and the role they play in leading the country’s cyber security efforts.  

Instead, the assembled expert speakers spent the majority of their time discussing the pre-Holidays appointment of Howard Schmidt to be the White House’s long-awaited Cyber Security Coordinator as well as the roles and responsibilities of the NSA and the forthcoming Cyber Command by the Pentagon.  

For someone who has followed the politics and policies of the cyber-security issue for several years but can accurately be described as ‘technically impaired,’ (I’m lucky I know where my computer’s ON button is located), I found today’s lack of mention of DHS to be quite notable.

Money has long been the center of gravity for any program and issue, and DHS certainly is getting its share of it. In fact, of all the critical infrastructure that DHS works with the private and public sectors to protect, cyber is by far the one area that is getting the most attention and the most resources.

Shortly after taking over DHS last year, Secretary Napolitano consolidated several of the Department’s cyber components and put them all into the National Protection and Programs Directorate to improve their overall operations and coordination. She’s even issued a national call to hire several thousand new employees to work these issues. It can certainly be said that DHS has not been shy in cyber-space, but in terms of being at the forefront of people’s minds, it was obvious that they have a long way to go, particularly with the experienced hands that spoke at the National Press Club.

For some in Washington, the lack of any mention or public acknowledgement of your role is seen as a blessing. It means that you can do your job without tremendous media or public glare; the pressure is not as great, and you can essentially do the job you were hired to do without tremendous micro-management or arm-chair quarterbacking from the peanut gallery.  

The converse of that non-mention is that the rest of the world doesn’t think you have a role to play in the issue; they don’t appreciate your current or emerging role in the matter and as Rodney would say, you “get no respect.”

Over the past year, DHS has been more than public about their role in cyber security, but as one of the newer kids in the federal government, it is still fighting that battle for acknowledgement, acceptance and ultimately, respect. With time, and of course accomplishment, that may come, but for this Washington-based homeland observer, there are times when what is not said or not mentioned that stands out the most.  

At Wednesday’s breakfast, that’s what stood out to me.

This piece was originally posted on Security Debrief.


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