Legislators are seeking to formally reinstate a long-debated cyber diplomacy office in the Department of State, giving it more power than department officials have called for in the past.
The move comes as part of a bill titled the Department of State Authorization Act of 2018, which covers a wide range of State Department authorities and already has bipartisan support, according to a news release.
“The Foreign Affairs Committee takes its responsibility to oversee and authorize the State Department seriously. By effectively investing in diplomacy and development, we can make America more prosperous and secure,” bill sponsor Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., said on the bill’s introduction.
The State Department previously had a Coordinator for Cyber Issues position responsible for the agency’s cyber policy, but the position was removed and the office surrounding it downgraded after the retirement of former Cyber Coordinator Christopher Painter in July 2017.
A September 2017 bill that sought to create an Office of Cyber Issues within the State Department passed the House in January 2018, and the State Department Authorization Act’s cyber provision appears to create a compromise between that legislation and State Department suggestions.
In a February 2018 letter to Royce, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson proposed creating a Bureau for Cyberspace and the Digital Economy that would combine the old Cyber Coordinator role with the Bureau of Economic Affairs’ Office of International Communications and Information Policy. The new bureau would be run by a Senate-confirmed assistant secretary that would report to the under secretary for economic growth, energy and the environment.
“This placement in the department’s structure will ensure close coordination with the other bureaus that report to the under secretary and focus on functional policy issues while closely coordinating with the private sector. It will also give the department the most effective platform from which to engage relevant global stakeholders,” Tillerson wrote.
Royce appears to have taken the suggestion for combining the two offices, but elevated the head of the office to an ambassador-level position.
Painter has been critical of the State Department’s attempts to keep the cyber office under the authority of the under secretary for economic growth, energy and the environment, saying that the economic focus of that office would limit the cyber position’s authority.
The Department of State Authorization Act is scheduled for House Foreign Affairs Committee markup April 26, 2018.