Senate Intelligence ranking member Mark Warner (D-VA) is touting CISA Director Christopher Krebs as a strong candidate to take over as DHS secretary, with Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan preparing to step down Thursday.
“I think Chris Krebs over at DHS is doing a good job,” Warner told Inside Cybersecurity today. “He should be considered for secretary."
On the eve of McAleenan's departure, key senators and industry sources weighed in on the prospect of Krebs filling the department’s top spot -- first raised today by Warner in a conversation with Inside Cybersecurity -- with some advocating the move, and others fearing it could ultimately diminish the government's cyber efforts.
McAleenan testified today before the House Homeland Security Committee where he highlighted Krebs’ success in his current role amid congressional concerns over the absence of leadership at DHS and on national security issues generally.
“The main connection point on cyber with the communities both interagency and in the private sector is the director of CISA, Chris Krebs is in place,” McAleenan said in response to lawmakers' questions. “He is well respected and regarded and has tremendous relationships that I have seen in action across those areas. I don't think a different Secretary or acting Secretary is going to affect that progress.”
Asked about the idea of moving Krebs into the top spot at DHS, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) told Inside Cybersecurity: “I'd like to get a secretary confirmed as soon as possible. I'd like to fill these vacancies. It's a department that has an awful lot of responsibilities and we need good leadership.”
Johnson's committee would vet a nominee to become secretary, but the position has been filled on an “acting” basis by McAleenan since former Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen left earlier this year.
On Krebs, Johnson said: “I've appreciated working with him. He's a very smart guy. He's really good in that particular role. He's really a cyber expert, so I'd hate to lose him in that role.”
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) told Inside Cybersecurity President Trump hasn’t paid enough attention to cybersecurity “from the beginning,” with other top Democrats echoing that sentiment.
A spokesman for Senate Homeland Security ranking member Gary Peters (D-MI) pointed to remarks the senator made at a hearing back in April.
“By the end of the week, the Department of Homeland Security will have no secretary, no deputy secretary, no chief financial officer, nobody leading multiple major bureaus and therefore virtually no accountability to the American people,” Peters said then. “We are looking at an absence of leadership at the top of the third-largest department in our federal government -- a department charged with preventing terrorism, securing our borders, enforcing our immigration laws, safeguarding cyberspace, and ensuring resilience to disasters.”
House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) expanded on this today, looking beyond DHS.
“I am deeply concerned about the state of the Department of Homeland Security,” he said. “It's been 203 days since the department has had a confirmed secretary, and Acting Secretary McAleenan recently announced that he is leaving after just six months on the job. His replacement will be the fifth person to lead DHS in fewer than three years. And even though Acting Secretary McAleenan is leaving tomorrow, from what I understand, the president has yet to announce who his replacement will be. What is the delay?”
Thompson continued: “Indeed, at no time during my tenure on this committee have I been more concerned about DHS's ability to carry out its mission. The chaos is not limited to the department, unfortunately. The president is also on his sixth national security advisor, fifth secretary of defense, third FBI director and third director of national intelligence, including acting officials. He has no longer--he also has no longer a homeland security advisor or a White House cyber coordinator. The president needs to fill positions critical to U.S. national security.”
Industry sources reflected the views expressed by McAleenan and lawmakers, with one industry source saying "the turmoil over the secretary position has had no impact on CISA or its private sector collaborators," and another saying “that’s certainly better than any alternative I’ve heard so far,” referring to Krebs potentially leading DHS.
Krebs has told reporters he’s “happy where he is,” while acknowledging that he is “in the line of succession” for the secretary position.
Warner acknowledged the potential that Krebs would end up leaving the administration if he were to assume the higher office, “I find that Chris Krebs has had an independent, thoughtful approach,” he said. “I'm not sure that's highly valued by this administration.” -- Mariam Baksh (firstname.lastname@example.org)