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Cyber and physical threats featured in 2020 budget requests

‘It’s the cybersecurity threats that keep me awake at night,’ Chief Administrative Officer Philip G. Kiko told lawmakers

Capitol Police Chief Matthew R. Verderosa has requested $463.3 million for fiscal 2020. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Capitol Police Chief Matthew R. Verderosa has requested $463.3 million for fiscal 2020. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The number of threats aimed at lawmakers has increased threefold over the past few years, the top security official in the House said Tuesday. Security concerns, both physical and cyber, are top priorities for Capitol Hill spending heading toward fiscal 2020.

House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul D. Irving, Capitol Police Chief Matthew R. Verderosa and Chief Administrative Officer Philip G. Kiko outlined threats and vulnerabilities their departments face and the funding needed to secure lawmakers, the Capitol complex and House online networks.

“It’s the cybersecurity threats that keep me awake at night,” Kiko told lawmakers at a Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee meeting.

The CAO’s office manages the information technology infrastructure for the House, from email networks to hosting members’ official websites.

“The House is undoubtedly a target of private and state-sponsored criminal cyber activity,” Kiko told the panel, citing known attacks on the parliaments of Australia and the United Kingdom.

The CAO is requesting $166,603,000 for fiscal 2020, an increase of 12.5 percent above current enacted levels. More than half of the increase, $11,081,000, would go toward the House Information Resources division to strengthen the House’s cyber defense posture, according to Kiko.

He told lawmakers that cybersecurity costs increase year over year, but that the consequences of falling behind and failing to protect congressional data are “incalculable.”

In just one month, the CAO blocks an estimated 1.6 billion unauthorized scans, probes and connections aimed at the House network.

The CAO’s office is in the process of shifting House websites to cloud computing services, where they can be secured more reliably. House Web Services has migrated, and it is currently hosting all new freshman member websites, and some others in the cloud. The goal is to have all CAO-hosted sites migrated by July 2019.

While Kiko and the CAO’s office focus on cyber, Capitol Police and the sergeant-at-arms are moving to create a secure perimeter at House office buildings and expand security services for district offices.

“Many members receive threats and direction of interest communications that raise concerns for the members, their families and staff, but do not equate to the requirement of a Capitol Police protective detail,” Irving, the House sergeant-at-arms, told the panel.

The increase in threats has prompted his office to boost communication with members’ offices about off-campus events and coordinate with local law enforcement for district events.

Protective services can range from a notification to local law enforcement, to additional assistance for the member’s district office staff, to a Capitol Police deployment, according to Irving.

Security of district offices has been a concern of members for years, and in 2017 the SAA’s office launched a program to help district offices install security alarms, cameras and panic buttons. The SAA pays for security upgrades at one district office per member. Members pay for the alarm system monitoring fees, and outfitting for multiple offices.

The sergeant-at-arms requested $23,720,292 for fiscal 2020. It includes $13,450,292 for 155 full-time employees, and an additional eight employees requested. Non-personnel items make up $10,270,000 of the request.

Some of that funding will go toward a new Joint Audible Warning System, which replaces the wireless emergency announcement system that was introduced as a temporary measure following 9/11.

According to Irving, the pager-like devices are so old that batteries and other components are no longer produced.

“Seventeen years after implementation, the funding requested will help procure a new joint system, with encrypted transmission capabilities, and new devices for all offices in the House,” he told the committee.

The replacement will include more than 2,500 devices in virtually every room on the House side of the Capitol.

The SAA’s office is working along with the Architect of the Capitol and the Capitol Police to establish a secure perimeter on Capitol Hill. By securing the House parking facilities, officials believe they can bring the total of entrants screened closer to 100 percent. 

Verderosa, the police chief, requested $463.3 million for fiscal 2020. The proposal represents a 1.5 percent increase over enacted spending levels.

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