Cybersecurity Bill Ends up in 'Maybe Next Year' Pile

By Peter Bernstein August 01, 2012

Some of you may remember my coverage back in March of the of the introduction in the U.S. Senate of the SECURE IT Act, a Republican alternative to the bi-partisan Cybersecurity Act of 2012 (S. 3414) which was then looking like it might get passed.  At that time I bemoaned the fact that legislation so vital to U.S. national security had become another victim of partisan squabbling in the election year. I predicted at that time that despite the need to act now, since the bad guys don’t take vacations, the likelihood of pass of the original measure that was co-sponsored by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) looked promising but problematic.

I unfortunately must now report that, while passage actually did look good for this session of Congress, the guillotine fell as the month of July ran out, when Senate Majority Leader used a parliamentary tactic to stop debate before a compromise could be struck and a vote taken. With Congress going on vacation and with roughly a dozen working days left between when they return in September and when they recess for a bit of electioneering, it is hard to imagine a scenario where this gets passed this year. 

As I stated before, to be kind, this is unfortunate. In stronger terms, it is a disgrace. If reports are to be believed coming out of various senatorial offices, a deal was tantalizingly close. The problem was that some powerful interests, specifically the cable TV companies, believed that the language in the compromise between the original bill and the alternative still gave regulators the power to turn what are supposed to be voluntary guidelines to be administered collaboratively between the government and industry, as looking like they would become involuntary. 

Despite protestations to the contrary by those supporting S. 3414 as amended that the proposals on information sharing between critical infrastructure providers and the government were totally voluntary, negotiations broke down and the Majority Leader was forced to drop the blade. 

The optimists in Washington say that during the recess a deal could be ironed out, but do not hold your breath on this one. I hate to be cynical but a hot bill that is still working its way through the process of becoming a law in an election year is a license to gather campaign contributions from parties who are looking for “perfecting language.”

I hope I am proven wrong on this one, but given the record of this entire session of Congress as being one of the least productive in history, the hardening of the parties to the point where it appears the U.S. has a parliamentary system of government where party rule rules, and the need to continue to build huge war chests for the coming election, the odds of this one making it through even one house of Congress are slim to none. The odds of it making it through both are astronomical.

One can only hope that this becomes an early priority of the next Congress. Who knows maybe with the election behind them a message to do something about almost anything will have been sent and heard and this sorely needed piece of legislation, with voluntary standards, will become law. Just thought you’d like to know.

Edited by Rich Steeves
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