DHS Acting Secretary Wolf Defends CISA Budget cut to Congress

Today’s House Homeland Security Committee hearing on DHS’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget request covered a wide array of topics. However, Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), spent much of his time defending a budget cut to Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).

Under the President’s FY21 budget request, CISA would receive $1.7 billion – a significant budget cut from the more than $2 billion the agency received from Congress in December 2019. Both sides of the aisle raised concerns over the decrease.

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Ranking Member Mike Rogers, R-Ala., highlighted that both he and Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., have “expressed dismay” over the budget cut. “You rightly cited cybersecurity as one of your priorities,” Rogers said. “I don’t understand why you could cut CISA’s budget.”

Wolf explained that while the current budget request was a decrease from what Congress enacted late last year, it actually represented an increase over President Trump’s FY20 budget request. He explained that the request fully funds CISA’s programs, including election security. Wolf further noted that we are currently in the middle of an election season and that CISA has played a large role in securing the nation’s election infrastructure. He was perhaps hinting at a reason behind the budget cut – CISA will likely have less election security work in 2021 and not need as large a budget.

During his testimony, Wolf praised CISA Director Chris Krebs’ work on election security. Calling 2020 “the most secure election” and said CISA was “very forward leading.”

Along with his colleagues, Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., zeroed in on the cuts to CISA, specifically citing threats to election security, critical infrastructure, and cyber espionage from foreign adversaries such as Russia and China. He questioned Wolf on how the cuts to CISA would “make America safer.” Wolf responded to Langevin the same way he did to Rogers, citing that the FY21 budget request was actually an increase over the FY20 request. Wolf did note that Krebs is “fully confident” that the budget request will let CISA deliver on “their full mission.” He also explained that “some of the funding” CISA has received “over the last years” is carrying over and will allow the agency to “fund its mission sets.”

While it didn’t receive much attention during the hearing, Wolf lauded funding for 500 new cybersecurity employees across DHS. “While advanced physical capabilities and technologies are important, the Department’s greatest asset remains out workforce,” Wolf noted.

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