After submitting his final spending plan to Congress on Tuesday, President Barack Obama touted his record and delivered a sales pitch for nearly $20 billion he says is needed to secure America’s cyber-footprint, a perhaps unexpected but entirely needed push, he said.
Obama is pitching a 35 percent hike in cybersecurity funding across the sprawling federal apparatus, saying the United States is increasingly at risk to attacks on its information infrastructure.
At the start of brief remarks to reporters at the White House at the conclusion of a meeting with senior national security officials and his cyber security advisers, Obama also defended his seven years in office. “We’ve made a lot of progress over the last several years,” he said. “Unemployment is down. Deficits are down. Gas prices are down. Job creation and wages … and health creation are all up.
“As I said during my State of the Union, America is as strongly positioned as any country on Earth to take advantage of the opportunities of the 21st Century,” he said. “But what we’re aware of is we have a lot of work to do.”
From there, the president launched into a defense of his 2017 budget plan, saying it contains “proposals that work for us and not against us.” He said it “drives down the deficit” and builds on the bipartisan budget agreement he signed into law late last year.
But mostly, Obama delivered a hard sell for his budget plan’s proposed cybersecurity efforts. He spoke at length only about the cyber plan, giving only short plugs for several other proposals.
“More and more, keeping America safe is not just about more tanks or more airplanes,” nor about “just a matter of bolstering our security on the ground,” he said. “We also have to bolster our security online. As we’ve seen in the past few years, and just in the past few days, cyber threats pose a danger not only to our national security but our economic security.”
He said his proposed “Cyber Action Plan” has been in the works “for the last months,” adding his team believes it “addresses short-term and long-term challenges.” The president vowed that his budget would “modernize federal IT” by replacing “outdated systems.”
“One of the biggest gaps between the public and private sector is in our IT space, and it makes everybody’s information vulnerable. Our Social Security system still runs on a … platform that runs back to the ‘60s,” Obama said, calling many such systems “archaic.”
Obama also tried to explain the need for his proposed cyber programs as non-ideological: “We’re going to really secure those in a serious way, and we need to upgrade them. That is something that we all should agree on. This is not an ideological thing. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Democratic president or a Republican president.”
Notably, the president said his administration will continue work with companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Visa to “help Americans [ensure] they are safe online.”
One possible hitch: Obama’s cyber plan needs the approval of Republicans in Congress who already have declared his budget dead on arrival.
“We believe we’ll be able to execute this in an effective way if Congress provides us the budgetary support to make this happen,” Obama said. “And they should.”
Of the various agencies involved in the proposed cyber security efforts, the president said he would be “holding their feet to the fire to make they execute on this in a timely fashion.”
The White House's budget request was accompanied by an executive order that sets up a federal privacy officer council, made up of senior officials from nearly 25 government entities.
"The new privacy council is an important step forward in formalizing privacy oversight throughout the federal government," said Greg Nojeim of the Center for Democracy and Technology.
"It has the potential to be a valuable mechanism for agencies with strong privacy practices, such as the Department of Homeland Security, to share their expertise across the government," Nojeim said. "Privacy should be treated more consistently across agencies and this should help achieve that result."
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on Tuesday that the urgency for cybersecurity efforts is real.
"And here's the thing I guarantee you: I guarantee you that, some point over the next year, we're all going to file into the briefing room, and I will walk in and find many of you on the edge of your seats, eager to ask the White House about the latest cyber intrusion," Earnest said.
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