New Bill Would Codify States’ Ability to Use Federally Funded National Guard for Cybersecurity

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Connecting state and local government leaders

National Guard troops currently being activated to monitor cybersecurity in the upcoming elections are paid for by states.

Sens. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, proposed amending U.S. law to explicitly include cybersecurity operations for protecting critical infrastructure as part of training and other duties of federally activated National Guard troops.

‘‘Such training or other duty may include cybersecurity operations or missions undertaken by the [Guard] member’s unit at the request of the Governor of the State concerned to protect critical infrastructure,” reads a bill the senators introduced Wednesday.

That sentence would be added to provisions about drills and field exercises in Title 32 of U.S. code which governs the use of National Guard troops in receipt of federal funding. 

“Right now, the National Guard is limited in how it can support state efforts to improve their cyber defenses, and the senators’ bill makes clear that states are authorized to use the National Guard to provide cyber support services to states and localities,” according to a press release of the bill. 

States and the federal government have joint custody over members of the National Guard, which has a dedicated presence in the states and territories, with stipulations around who can use them for what purpose. National Guard troops that have been deployed to monitor cybersecurity in this year’s elections are doing so under “State Active Duty.”

Cornyn has backed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in opposing higher levels of federal funding for election security—designated critical infrastructure following the last presidential election—saying that could be a Trojan Horse for a federal takeover of the process. He has previously supported federal funding for election security but it was tied to activities with limited power, such as training for officials.

“The National Guard fights to protect Americans from cybersecurity threats every day, and it is essential that they have the authority to provide support to state agencies and local governments working to keep us safe online,” Cornyn said. “By ensuring the National Guard is able to work with states and localities to improve their cyber infrastructure, we can make sure the U.S. stays one step ahead of bad actors.”

Hassan has been meeting with officials in her district following ransomware attacks on institutions there and has consulted with the New Hampshire National Guard around training exercises they’ve done on cyber preparedness, according to the release.  

"Cyberattacks can jeopardize our national security, shut down electrical grids, and threaten the operations of our hospitals and schools—we must ensure that the National Guard can help with these types of threats just like any other threat that states face," she said. "I've heard directly from Granite State leaders about how helpful our National Guard can be in increasing our cyber resiliency, and this bipartisan bill will make it easier for all states to fully use the impressive talents of National Guard members to help prevent cyberattacks before they happen."

Mariam Baksh reports on the development of federal cybersecurity policy for Nextgov

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