Horn: Government Must Protect IT Infrastructure

The congressman who made a name for himself by keeping a spotlight on government year 2000 efforts is starting to apply the same heat to protecting the nation's and government's critical information technology infrastructures.

Rep. Stephen Horn, R-Calif., chairman of the House Government Reform subcommittee on government efficiency, financial management and information technology, said in a hearing Sept. 26 that the defenders of the critical IT infrastructure must learn from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. They must realize, he said, that the "government's critical computer systems are as vulnerable to attack as airport security."

Horn also said the General Accounting Office (GAO) in 1997 added government computer security to its high-risk list, but "it is now 2001, and the government has made little progress in addressing computer security issues."

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks notwithstanding, Horn also said recent computer worm and virus issues highlight the ongoing need to protect critical computer systems.

"Following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, the 'Nimda' worm attacked computer systems around the world," Horn said. "On Monday, a new worm was unleashed on computer systems. This worm is capable of wiping out a computer's basic system files. These attacks are increasing in intensity, sophistication and potential damage."

Horn long has been an advocate of increased cybersecurity for government computer systems. Last September, he released a report card for federal government cybersecurity, giving the government an "appalling average grade of D-minus." The technique is the same one he used to keep the pressure on agencies trying to fix year 2000 date-code problems.

Richard Clarke, the Clinton administration's National Security Council cybersecurity point man, agreed with Horn that computer security needed drastic improvement.

Several private groups, including Gartner Inc., have urged the Bush administration to appoint a federal chief information officer to field a range of IT issues, including privacy, electronic government, Internet voting and cybersecurity.

Rep. Jim Turner, D-Texas, has sponsored legislation to create a federal CIO position, as have Sens. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and Conrad Burns, R-Mont. But White House Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director Sean O'Keefe in July told a Senate hearing that a federal CIO would create a new and unnecessary government bureaucracy.

The Bush administration supports using the OMB deputy director of management as a cybersecurity chief.

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