The Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) is calling for the appointment of a "cyber czar" in the wake of the resignations of key White House cybersecurity advisors Howard Schmidt and Richard Clarke.
The corporate IT trade group says the issues of cybersecurity are different from physical security, and the ITAA is concerned that no single high ranking Bush Administration official has primary responsibility for the nation's cybersecurity.
According to a number of published reports, Schmidt e-mailed on Monday an "informal letter of resignation" to his colleagues, announcing his intention to quit the administration by the end of April. His resignation follows the February departure of Richard Clarke, who served as chairman of the President's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board.
"We believe that cybersecurity is an essential component of national security. We appreciate the outstanding individuals that President Bush has designated to oversee infrastructure protection and information analysis within the new Department of Homeland Security," ITAA President Harris N. Miller. "We are concerned, however, that the cybersecurity issue is losing visibility inside the White House. Frankly, when everybody is in charge of an issue, nobody is in charge of the issue."
When Clarke announced his resignation, the White House said it would abolish the board and move its responsibilities to the New Department of Homeland Security, which is consolidating five different federal cybersecurity offices. Although the board was eliminated, Schmidt, Microsoft's former chief of security, remained at the White House.
Schmidt unsuccessfully maneuvered to become Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge's top cybersecurity advisor, but the job eventually went to Robert Liscouski, who was named assistant secretary of infrastructure protection. Liscouski is the former director of information assurance at Coca Cola.
"In this case, the 'bully pulpit' opportunity to influence the development of a truly secure cyber infrastructure and associated best practices will be lost. We once again urge President Bush and Secretary Ridge to appoint a senior executive to act as the administration's point person on this critical issue," Harris said.
Separately, Miller praised the contributions of Schmidt.
"Howard has been a tireless champion, dedicated to critical infrastructure protection and making the nation more cyber secure. The online community owes him a debt of gratitude for raising awareness on this vital issue," Harris said.
Schmidt served at the White House for 17 months after joining the administration shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Along with Clarke, Schmidt is a key author of the White House plan to better protect the nation's network infrastructure from terrorist cyber attacks.
As finally released by the White House, the plan calls for a voluntary partnership between the public and private sectors to share security intelligence, reduce vulnerabilities and deter malicious entities.
The effort is getting major financial backing. The administration has authorized $900 million dollars for the next five years for cyber security research and development. Schmidt said the money has yet to be appropriated. Overall spending on services and technology across all federal agencies is expected to grow form $45.4 billion in fiscal year 2003 to $68.2 billion in 2008 with e-government and homeland security getting the lion's share.