After almost three months of silence on key cybersecurity nominations from the White House—which garnered indignation from lawmakers and experts alike—the administration announced its nominees on Monday. The slew of individuals included Chris Inglis for the first-ever national cyber director (NCD), Jen Easterly as the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) and Robert Silvers as undersecretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In a statement, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan described the nominations as an important step in strengthening U.S. cyber capabilities.

Now that there are names to the titles, what will these high-level officials have to prioritize? The three appointees will have their work cut out for them as each faces a major challenge: Inglis will have to fight for recognition of his post, Easterly will have to argue for consistent funding of the CISA and Silvers will have to balance the policy course of the DHS.

As the inaugural NCD, Chris Inglis’ main challenge will be gaining legitimate recognition for the role’s mandate. The creation of the NCD stems from the recommendation of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission. According to their report, Inglis will help foster high-level coordination of offensive and defensive cyber operations across government bodies and serve as the country’s top cybersecurity advocate. Experts have expressed doubt at the location and role of the NCD, but Inglis must convince the other leaders that they must live up to their “world-class cyber team” status. While balancing the day-to-day demands of the role and simultaneously shaping the role for future successors as part of the country’s broader, long-term cybersecurity outlook will be demanding, Inglis is well positioned, with decades of experience and a temperament perfectly suited to deftly managing the internal debates and power plays within the White House. Internal squabbles and disagreements cannot take precedence over a cohesive, collaborative mindset to direct the country’s cybersecurity efforts. If there is one area where Inglis will shine, this will be it.

Easterly’s main challenge will be to advocate for, and fully utilize, significant additional resources for the CISA. While the CISA is tasked with spearheading the country’s overall cybersecurity policy efforts and responding to cyber attacks, the agency itself was recently described as “underfunded, outmatched and ‘exhausted.” Indeed, addressing the CISA’s lack of resources and personnel necessary to carry out its mandate fully was a top priority for the Solarium Commission. Congress similarly seems to be coming around to the understanding that if cybersecurity is indeed a top priority and major risk to the United States, we need to fund it accordingly. This funding need rings especially true in light of proposals such as the American Jobs Plan, which calls for a $2 trillion update to the country’s infrastructure. The measures proposed by the plan will inevitably draw in the CISA when building out swathes of broadband infrastructure, for example. Easterly will need to argue for funding, making the case that galvanizing efforts in her department will be the right course of action. She will subsequently need to prove that the CISA can use this funding judiciously and to good effect.

As policy undersecretary, Rob Silvers’ main challenge—and one Inglis and Easterly will also have to face—is policy. One of the main pitfalls of the last administration, and the biggest challenge for the CISA within the DHS, was that immigration and border security overshadowed any efforts on cybersecurity. Silvers has to correct this imbalance and help Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas achieve his aims by focusing the DHS on the stated goals of the administration—cybersecurity being one. Silvers will also have to contend with how to appropriately balance the control that the DHS Office of Cyber and Infrastructure Resilience Policy shares with the CISA, and its own office of policy; a dynamic that has remained in a tenuous state of nondetermination for years. With a stronger CISA, buttressed by a more robust budget, stronger cybersecurity leadership and an Office of the NCD, it may be time for the DHS to give the CISA more of the reins in cyber policy decision-making.

Biden’s nominees face anything but an uneventful cybersecurity environment in their first year. Cybersecurity officers are fine-tuning their approaches with more attention turning to cyber risk in the boardroom, and the appointees are no different. As Inglis, Easterly and Silvers battle for recognition, resources and policy, the right choices in the next few years could set up the United States for success for many decades to come.

Image credit: Yurchanka Siarhei

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