White House Taps Howard Schmidt as Cyber Security Chief

BY Jason M. Breslow  December 22, 2009 at 1:37 PM EDT

Nearly seven months after announcing a new emphasis on digital security, the Obama administration has tapped a veteran of both eBay and Microsoft to lead the nation’s military and civilian cybersecurity efforts.

Howard Schmidt, who served as a cybersecurity advisor in the Bush administration, will fill the new post of White House Cybersecurity Coordinator. Schmidt will be charged with setting computer security policy and providing budget guidance across the government. In a letter announcing the appointment, the White House said Schmidt “will have regular access to the President and serve as a key member of his National Security Staff.”

In May, President Obama declared that protecting the nation’s digital networks would be a “national security priority.” The naming of a cyber-czar was slowed, however, by internal debates within the administration over how much authority the official would have. According to the Washington Post, several candidates turned down the job “out of concern that the job conferred much responsibility with little true authority.”

“It’ll be a thankless job,” writes Marc Ambinder in the Atlantic’s politics blog. “Given the near-certainty that the government will experience some massive data breach or a major cyber terrorism attack, Schmidt will be both the point person — and the person seen as responsible, even though he lacks the statutory authority to prevent these catastrophes.”

On tonight’s NewsHour, Jeffrey Brown will have more on Schmidt’s appointment and the threat of cybercrime. Stay tuned.