Government watchdog recommends creation of White House cyber director position

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded Tuesday that confusion over cybersecurity leadership is undermining the ability of the federal government to fully address cybersecurity challenges, recommending the establishment of a federal cyber czar. 

The watchdog agency wrote in a report that “clarity of leadership” was “urgently needed” in order to implement the Trump administration’s 2018 National Cyber Strategy, citing concerns around the wide array of federal agencies involved in combating cyber threats, and the lack of a White House leader to help coordinate these actions.

“Without effective and transparent leadership that includes a clearly defined leader, a defined management process, and a formal monitoring mechanism, the executive branch cannot ensure that entities are effectively executing their assigned activities intended to support the nation’s cybersecurity strategy and ultimately overcome this urgent challenge,” GAO wrote. 

The agency zeroed in on the elimination of the White House cybersecurity coordinator position in 2018 as being a major factor in leadership confusion at the federal level. The position was eliminated by former national security advisor John BoltonJohn BoltonDiplomacy with China is good for America The Hill’s Morning Report – Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association – Pence lauds Harris as ‘experienced debater’; Trump, Biden diverge over debate prep DOJ launches probe into Bolton book for possible classified information disclosures MORE in an effort to decrease bureaucracy.

“In light of the elimination of the White House Cybersecurity Coordinator position in May 2018, it remains unclear which official ultimately maintains responsibility for not only coordinating execution of the Implementation Plan, but also holding federal agencies accountable once activities are implemented,” GAO wrote. 

The report was released in the midst of an ongoing effort by bipartisan members of Congress to push through legislation establishing a national cyber director position at the White House, which would be an expanded version of the previous position and would help coordinate cybersecurity efforts at the federal level.

A bipartisan bill establishing the position was included in the House version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act in July, but was left out of the Senate version. 

GAO recommended Tuesday that Congress “consider legislation” that would establish a position at the White House with the authority “to implement and encourage action in support of the nation’s cyber critical infrastructure.”

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyTop Democrats call for DOJ watchdog to probe Barr over possible 2020 election influence House panel advances bill to ban Postal Service leaders from holding political positions Shakespeare Theatre Company goes virtual for ‘Will on the Hill…or Won’t They?’ MORE (D-N.Y.), one of the sponsors of the original legislation introduced in June to create a national cyber director, pointed to the report on Tuesday as supporting the establishment of the position.

“Today’s new report from the Government Accountability Office warns of another gaping vulnerability created by President TrumpDonald John TrumpBubba Wallace to be driver of Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin NASCAR team Graham: GOP will confirm Trump’s Supreme Court nominee before

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House Dems call for an ‘emergency’ DOJ watchdog review of Durham probe

President Donald Trump has sought more prosecutions related to Durham’s probe, and has called for FBI and intelligence officials he views as his political enemies to be punished.

The Democrats are asking Horowitz to expedite a review of various aspects of Barr’s comments and Durham’s review. Among them: Whether Barr’s public commentary complies with DOJ policy and the 2018 inspector general report; whether DOJ has implemented Horowitz’s earlier recommendations on politically sensitive investigations; if a Durham report issued before the election would comply with department policies; whether Durham has the legal authority to be conducting his probe, including a formal scope memo; and whether Durham is permitted to issue a public report about anyone who hasn’t been charged with a crime.

Senate Democrats sought a similar probe in a letter to Horowitz on Thursday.

Barr has rejected the notion that any findings issued by Durham ahead of the election would inappropriately influence the campaign. He has argued that DOJ practices prohibit such steps but only if they are aimed at candidates themselves or their very close associates.

Barr has publicly indicated that the Durham probe does not contemplate investigating former Vice President and Democratic nominee Joe Biden or former President Barack Obama. He has at times publicly characterized potentially explosive findings in Durham’s investigation but has denied that there’s political pressure to move it quickly.

Last week, a top Durham aide and long-serving federal prosecutor, Nora Dannehy, resigned from the DOJ amid a push from the president to publish the results of the probe before the election.

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Interior Department watchdog ‘highly successful’ at hacking agency’s networks

The Department of the Interior’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) said Wednesday that it has been “highly successful” at accessing the agency’s networks as part of a security audit due to cybersecurity shortcomings. 

As part of a security audit, OIG employees conducted penetration testing on the Interior Department’s networks, and were successfully able to break into networks and access sensitive information, including intercepting and decrypting network traffic, accessing internal networks at two Interior Department bureaus, and stealing the credentials of an agency IT employee. 

The OIG accessed the networks through simulating previous attacks by malicious hackers to target federal agencies, including using portable testing units concealed in backpacks and operated by smartphones to test the networks while the OIG employees were positioned in publicly accessible areas of Interior Department buildings.

The OIG noted that the penetration testing went “undetected” by both IT personnel and security guards. 

“We used the same tools, techniques, and practices that malicious actors use to eavesdrop on communications and gain unauthorized access,” the OIG wrote in a report detailing the security audit results. “Many of the attacks we conducted were previously used by Russian intelligence agents around the world.”

Based on findings from the audit, the OIG accused the agency’s Office of the Chief Information Officer of failing to “establish and enforce wireless security practices,” and concluded that the Interior Department did not carry out regular tests of its network security, maintain inventories of its wireless networks, and published inadequate security guidance. 

“Without operating secure wireless networks that include boundary controls between networks and active monitoring, the Department is vulnerable to the breach of a high-value IT asset, which could cripple Department operations and result in the loss of highly sensitive data,” the OIG wrote.

In order to prevent successful cyberattacks, the OIG recommended the Interior Department take over a dozen steps to increase security, and noted in the audit that 13 of the recommendations had already been resolved by the agency. 

Interior Department Chief Information Officer William Vajda responded to each of the OIG’s recommendations in a letter attached to the report, writing that his office “appreciated working” with the OIG. 

“I am pleased to report that the Department not only concurs with all of the Office of the Inspector General’s recommendations, but also have substantially complied with all of them, with just a few remaining tasks to be accomplished with respect to a few of the recommendations,” Vajda wrote to Interior Department Inspector General Mark Lee Greenblatt. 

The OIG noted in the report that despite these strides forward, the agency can still do more to shore up cybersecurity.

“Until the Department improves its cyber risk management practices, its computer networks and high-value IT assets will be at risk of compromise, the results of which could have serious or severe adverse effects on Department operations, assets, or individuals,” the OIG wrote. “The Department has begun taking significant steps to mitigate these weaknesses, but more remains to be done.”

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Top House Democrats call for watchdog probe into Pompeo’s Jerusalem speech

A pair of senior House Democrats on Friday called for the State Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) to investigate the legality of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s speech to the Republican National Convention last month.



Mike Pompeo, Eliot Engel are posing for a picture: Top House Democrats call for watchdog probe into Pompeo's Jerusalem speech


© Greg Nash
Top House Democrats call for watchdog probe into Pompeo’s Jerusalem speech

Reps. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), who chair the House Foreign Affairs and Appropriations committees, respectively, called on the State Department’s Deputy Inspector General Diana Shaw to launch the probe.

“Secretary Pompeo’s decision to make this speech appears to have violated long-standing prohibitions on Department employees’ participation in political activities and sends a message that the rules and standards that govern most Department employees don’t apply to the Department’s senior political appointee,” the Democratic chairpeople wrote in a letter to Shaw.

“The Secretary of State is our country’s top diplomat, responsible for representing all of America to the rest of the world, not the narrow interests of a particular president or of a single political party,” they continued.

Pompeo delivered pre-recorded remarks to the GOP convention while on official diplomatic travel to Israel last month. He has defended his participation in the political event as occurring in his personal capacity and has further said the State Department cleared his actions as lawful.

“I did this in my personal capacity. All I can say in my role as secretary of State is the State Department reviewed this, it was lawful, and I personally felt it was important that the world hear the message of what this administration has accomplished,” Pompeo told reporters on Wednesday.

But his participation has drawn intense scrutiny and criticism from Democrats, who say his remarks to the event violated State Department guidelines prohibiting presidentially-appointed and Senate-confirmed officials from engaging in political events while on duty and abroad.

They further criticized whether taxpayer dollars were used related to the secretary’s participation in the political event.

The Republican National Committee said that it would cover the cost of Pompeo’s participation in the event and the State Department said no taxpayer funds were used.

Engel and Lowey pointed out that taxpayer resources had likely been used for Pompeo’s flight to Israel, his lodging and security.

In addition to the OIG request, Democrats have launched their own investigation into Pompeo’s speech.

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on oversight, announced last month an investigation into whether Pompeo’s speech violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal officials from participating in political events in their official capacities.

Pompeo is not the only administration official that Democrats have accused of violating the Hatch Act, with the Democratic-controlled House Oversight and Reform Committee on Thursday calling for the Office of Special Counsel to investigate participation by numerous administration officials during the GOP convention.

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Overnight Energy: Interior watchdog says officials misled Congress | Trump admin finalizes rule on royalty cuts for mining

HAPPY TUESDAY! Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill’s roundup of the latest energy and environment news. Please send tips and comments to Rebecca Beitsch at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccabeitsch. Reach Rachel Frazin at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter: @RachelFrazin.



a group of people on a sidewalk: Overnight Energy: Interior watchdog says officials misled Congress | Trump admin finalizes rule on royalty cuts for mining | Groups pressure Biden to exclude fossil fuel execs


© Rebecca Beitsch
Overnight Energy: Interior watchdog says officials misled Congress | Trump admin finalizes rule on royalty cuts for mining | Groups pressure Biden to exclude fossil fuel execs

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THE LEAD STORY: Top Interior Department officials misled Congress when they claimed high office rent in Washington, D.C., was a factor in the need to move the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to a new headquarters in Colorado, the agency’s internal watchdog found.

A report on Tuesday from Interior’s Office of Inspector General found that two officials overplayed the cost of BLM’s M Street SE lease near Nationals Park as a motivating factor in the move, as the agency already had plans underway to return to office space owned by the government.

Joseph Balash, a former assistant secretary for land and minerals management who now works in the oil industry, and BLM acting Director William Perry Pendley, whose tenure with the agency is the subject of a lawsuit, are implicated in the report.

Both men wrote in correspondence with Congress that BLM would be unable to stay in its existing M Street SE office because the cost would exceed the $50 per square foot limit set by the government.

The report found the claims were “misleading” and said that “the future lease cost of 20 M Street was irrelevant.”

Interior announced in July 2019 that it would move more than 200 of BLM’s D.C.-based employees to existing offices across the West, while putting nearly 25 of its top-ranking leaders at a new headquarters in Grand Junction, Colo. The move would leave just 61 of BLM’s 10,000 employees in Washington.

The move was considered a victory for Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who is facing a tight reelection campaign, but it raised the eyebrows of former BLM employees, who questioned why the agency would leave such a small footprint in D.C. and set up shop in a town four hours from any major airport.

But well before Grand Junction was on the drawing board, BLM was already planning to leave its M Street SE space.

“When we got that lease it was a bargain,” said Steve Ellis, who retired from the highest-ranking career position within BLM in 2016.

“Since we moved people in there, Nationals Park popped up across the street, the area’s become much more popular and built up. That’s a good thing, but it meant the lease would be cost prohibitive when it ended, so we we’re looking around at options.”

Rather than pay more than $50 per square foot, the inspector general found evidence from both 2016 and 2017 that the department “had longstanding plans” to move BLM employees either to the Main Interior Building (MIB) or another federal

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Interior watchdog: top officials misled Congress on BLM relocation out West

Top Interior Department officials misled Congress when they claimed high office rent in Washington, D.C., was a factor in the need to move the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to a new headquarters in Colorado, the agency’s internal watchdog found.

A report on Tuesday from Interior’s Office of Inspector General found that two officials overplayed the cost of BLM’s M Street SE lease near Nationals Park as a motivating factor in the move, as the agency already had plans underway to return to office space owned by the government.

Joseph Balash, a former assistant secretary for land and minerals management who now works in the oil industry, and BLM acting Director William Perry Pendley, whose tenure with the agency is the subject of a lawsuit, are implicated in the report.

Both men wrote in correspondence with Congress that BLM would be unable to stay in its existing M Street SE office because the cost would exceed the $50 per square foot limit set by the government.

The report found the claims were “misleading” and said that “the future lease cost of 20 M Street was irrelevant.”

Interior announced in July of last year that it would move more than 200 of BLM’s Washington-based employees to existing offices across the West, while putting nearly 25 of its top-ranking leaders at a new headquarters in Grand Junction, Colo. The move would leave just 61 of BLM’s 10,000 employees in Washington.

The move was considered a victory for Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerMail-in voting won’t hurt conservatives — Trump will Overnight Energy: Interior watchdog says officials misled Congress | Trump admin finalizes rule on royalty cuts for mining | Groups pressure Biden to exclude fossil fuel execs Interior watchdog: top officials misled Congress on BLM relocation out West MORE (R-Colo.), who is facing a tight reelection campaign, but it raised the eyebrows of former BLM employees, who questioned why the agency would leave such a small footprint in D.C. and set up shop in a town four hours from any major airport.

But well before Grand Junction was on the drawing board, BLM was already planning to leave its M Street SE space.

“When we got that lease it was a bargain,” said Steve Ellis, who retired from the highest-ranking career position within BLM in 2016. 

“Since we moved people in there, Nationals Park popped up across the street, the area’s become much more popular and built up. That’s a good thing, but it meant the lease would be cost prohibitive when it ended, so we we’re looking around at options.”

Rather than pay more than $50 per square foot, the inspector general found evidence from both 2016 and 2017 that the department “had longstanding plans” to move BLM employees either to the Main Interior Building (MIB) or another federal facility.

“The evidence indicated that the future lease cost of 20 M Street was irrelevant at that point due to the department’s earlier plans to move the BLM into the MIB or

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