Lawmakers call for civilian reserve corps to bolster federal cyber defense

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is proposing a civilian reserve corps to serve as a backstop against cyber and ransomware attacks targeting federal agencies.

The bill, which is led by Reps. Tony Gonzales, Texas Republican, and Robin Kelly, Illinois Democrat, would stand up a National Digital Reserve Corps of civilian cyber experts under the General Services Administration. It would provide a pool of expertise for the federal government to tap into for select projects.

“As we have seen from multiple cyber and ransomware attacks this year, the United States government currently lacks access to digital expertise,” said Mr. Gonzales, who served as a senior ranking cryptologist in the Navy before being elected to Congress. “The organization of the National Digital Reserve Corps strives to fill that void with civilian industry experts working in service to our federal government and our national security.”

Reservists would commit in three-year periods and would be detailed by the GSA to various federal agencies to work on federal government projects for 30 days per calendar year.

A recent wave of high-profile cyber and ransomware attacks on critical infrastructure has raised alarms in Congress and across the federal government. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee this week that cyber threats “remain one of the most prominent threats facing our nation.”

In 2020, DHS saw a 311% increase in ransomware above the previous year, with nearly 2,400 targeted attacks costing an estimated $350 million.

“The federal government and our private sector partners must be prepared to respond to and recover from a cyber incident, sustain critical functions even under degraded conditions, and, in some cases, quickly restart critical functionality after disruption,” Mr. Mayorkas said.

FBI Director Christopher Wray told the same panel that the bureau is currently investigating “over 100 different types of ransomware, each with scores of victims.”

Mr. Gonzales said the majority of federal cyber expertise resides in the Department of Defense or within the national security apparatus, but he said other federal and municipal agencies continue to remain vulnerable to attacks. He said his bill would provide a deeper bench for federal agencies that may lack expertise.

“The National Digital Reserve Corps is an innovative solution to help the federal government reach its cybersecurity and digital needs while allowing reservists an opportunity to gain valuable experience and receive additional training to grow their skill set,” Ms. Kelly said.

The bill, which is proposed as an amendment to the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), an annual defense policy bill currently on the House floor, is backed by more than 30 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle.

The House began debating close to 500 amendments to the NDAA late Tuesday.

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Author: Shirley