Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee today that the agency’s $2.1 billion cybersecurity budget request for Fiscal Year 2022 is “critical” to the agency’s mission of protecting the United States.

Cybersecurity Funding is Essential

Today’s Senate committee hearing covered a range of DHS’ national security priorities, including responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, border security, and domestic extremism. However, Mayorkas took time to highlight the department’s cybersecurity work, and defended its budget request in that area.

As DHS Secretary, Mayorkas oversees the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), which serves as a liaison between Federal, state, and local governments, as well as the private sector and international partners. Mayorkas said that CISA serves a “central role” by “enabling greater visibility into cybersecurity threats, strengthening incident response capabilities, and driving improvements in security practices.”

Mayorkas defended CISA’s $2.1 billion cybersecurity budget request, saying the funding will help the agency “respond to governmentwide breaches, increase cyber defense, hire qualified experts, and obtain support services to protect and defend critical infrastructure and Federal IT systems.”

Cybersecurity Threats are Growing

The DHS Secretary commented on the spike in recent months of ransomware and other cyberattacks against the critical infrastructure sector, as well as Federal, state, and local governments.

“Our nation faces growing cyber threats from nation-states and criminal groups alike,” Mayorkas testified. “Over the past months, we discovered several intrusion campaigns impacting the Federal government. The Colonial Pipeline and JBS ransomware attacks were a powerful reminder of the risks to our critical infrastructure and the impact malicious cyber activity can have on Americans’ daily lives.”

Cyber Executive Order Will Facilitate Modernization

Mayorkas praised the cybersecurity executive order (EO) that President Biden signed in May.

He said that the EO “empowers DHS and our interagency partners to modernize Federal cybersecurity, expand information sharing, and dramatically improve our ability to prevent, detect, assess, and remediate cyber incidents across the Federal government.” Currently, DHS and CISA are working to implement the EO to help agencies improve their security posture, develop a standard playbook for incident response, and establish a Cyber Safety Review Board comprised of public and private sector stakeholders.

Mayorkas also addressed his use of 60-day “sprints” to rapidly mobilize the department in specific priority areas. In March, DHS launched a sprint focused on elevating the fight against ransomware.

“We elevated ongoing efforts, created an internal task force, launched new initiatives domestically and internationally, and are fully engaged in the whole-of-government effort to address this urgent threat,” he testified.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.