Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen emphasized at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing this week the importance of shoring up United States cyber defenses, and said that effort would be helped by adequate funding and reorganization of a key DHS department.

“This committee knows that the dangers we face online are serious, and they emanate from hackers, TCOs, nation-states, and other nefarious actors,” she said. “DHS is on the digital frontlines of this fight and is undertaking historic efforts to safeguard the Federal government’s civilian information technology systems and to work with all levels of government, international partners, and business sectors to share cybersecurity information and build resilient systems.”

During the lengthy hearing, which largely focused on border control tactics and funding, Nielsen highlighted two tech-related concerns–the need for adequate cybersecurity funding and an ongoing push to reorganize a DHS department that plays a key cybersecurity role.

Budgeting for Security

While the hearing largely focused on budget requests to fund DHS workforce increases, Nielsen detailed the cybersecurity budget requests in President Trump’s FY 2019 budget request.

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“The President’s Budget would continue investments in cybersecurity initiatives that protect Federal networks and address identified vulnerabilities,” she explained. “More than $644 million is requested for DHS’s Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation program and the National Cybersecurity Protection System, which provide network monitoring, intrusion prevention, intrusion detection, and analytical capabilities to strengthen the cybersecurity of Federal civilian departments and agencies.”

With the 2018 mid-term elections on the horizon, Nielsen also touched on what DHS is doing to protect the U.S. election process.

“The threat is real, and we know that a sophisticated adversary can put the foundations of our democracy at risk through cyber attacks, which is why our request for FY 2019 would also make sure DHS is positioned to counter malignant foreign influence efforts by supporting state and local election officials in defending the integrity of election systems,” Nielsen said.

Name Game

The ongoing name game within DHS popped up once again at the hearing. DHS has been pushing to change the name of its National Protection and Programs Directorate to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).

However, the name change wasn’t included in the last omnibus spending bill–much to the chagrin of DHS.

At this week’s hearing, Nielsen gave another plug for the renaming the department and thanked the committee for supporting the change.

“We need CISA urgently,” Nielsen said. “The authorization of the Agency will allow DHS to better engage with stakeholders to guard against threats from nation states, cyber criminals, and other nefarious actors in the digital battlespace. This includes enhancing election security nationwide, which is one of the primary reasons we need Congress to pass this bill as soon as possible.”

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