In a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing, Alejandro Mayorkas, President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), laid out his vision for the nation’s cybersecurity and promised to make it a priority if confirmed.

Mayorkas concurred with senators who questioned how the nation was doing on cybersecurity issues in the Jan. 19 hearing, expressing that the nation’s cybersecurity must be improved going forward. Mayorkas, who served as deputy secretary of DHS to Jeh Johnson during President Obama’s second term, said he’s since seen the work that still needs to be done.

“Secretary Johnson prioritized a very evolving cybersecurity threat and we made tremendous advances in the department under his ultimate leadership,” Mayorkas said. “The threat has only evolved and only grown since … then. And I can assure you that the cybersecurity of our nation will be one of my highest priorities because I concur with you that the threat is real. And the threat is every day, and we have to do a much better job than we are doing now.”

As part of his cybersecurity strategy, Mayorkas expressed looking forward to working with senators and the committee on cybersecurity issues both at the border and nationwide. Specifically, Mayorkas expressed an eagerness to fully understand the SolarWinds hack as an agency-head and whether current programs like EINSTEIN and Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation (CDM) are enough to prevent a similar attack in the future.

Mayorkas concurred with Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, on how crucial local cybersecurity is to the nation’s infrastructure and committed to looking to see if Federal grants should be made available for localities to improve their cybersecurity infrastructure. When asked by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., about the current workload faced by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), Mayorkas praised the work they’ve done and reiterated their role in securing the nation’s systems.

“CISA must improve the cyber hygiene of the Federal government for the many departments and agencies throughout it,” Mayorkas said. “It must strengthen the public-private partnership, not only for the benefit, of course of the Federal government, but for the benefit of the private sector itself. I take stock of the fact that the Solarium Commission’s recommendation for a National Cybersecurity director was passed. I think this is going to require an all of government approach, and there’s a great amount that will rest on the shoulders of CISA.”

In a separate speech from the Senate floor, Sen. Chuck Schumer, soon-to-be the Majority Leader, has said that giving Biden Senate-confirmed leadership from Day One should be a priority. As such, Schumer said the Senate will convene after the inauguration Jan. 20, to begin confirmation hearings and listed confirmations along with the Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump as the next Senate’s first items on the dossier. However, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., has said he will block the quick consideration of Mayorkas. If he does so, the Senate will have to undertake further deliberations on Mayorkas’ confirmation.

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Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.