A proposed $250 million reduction for cyber security efforts in the fiscal year 2021 budget request for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) is in part due to the fact that there will be less need for election security funding next year given that it is an off-year for major elections, the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security said on Tuesday.
Secretary Chad Wolf noted that a congressional plus-up to the FY '20 CISA budget is being put toward helping to secure elections and political campaigns this year in the run up to the November elections. He also said that much of what CISA does, even if it's not specific to election security, benefits cyber security of elections.
"As we look at 2021, which is an off election year, the budget request fully funds what CISA needs to continue to provide that election security resource and again, election security, while it's called out specifically in CISA's budget as a line item, a lot of what they do throughout CISA plays in and contributes to a lot of the resources and services they provide to election state officials as well as our political campaigns," Wolf told the Senate Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee in response to a question from Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), chairwoman of the panel.
Moore Capito pointed out that in his testimony Wolf cited the importance of cyber security and said that "just because this is an election year doesn't mean elections stop as we go past November of 2020. This is going to be an ongoing responsibility of you and others within the administration."
Wolf, in his written testimony to the committee justifying the overall FY '21 DHS budget request to Congress, said, "The 2016 election is a stark reminder that Russia remains a significant threat to our democratic process. And with a Presidential Election this November, it has never been more important to increase our digital defense to prevent cybersecurity threats from influencing electoral outcomes."
Cyber security funding in CISA's proposed FY '21 budget will "sustain" election security activities next year, Wolf said.
Wolf also told Moore Capito that the timing associated with development of the FY '21 budget request and enactment of the FY '20 budget also factored into the reduction. The FY '21 budget request was delivered to Congress earlier this month while the FY '20 DHS budget was signed by President Trump last December after a series of continuing resolutions were used to keep the department operating after the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1.
In response to a question about Russian interference in the 2020 elections from Sen. John Tester (D-Mont.), the ranking member of the subcommittee, Wolf replied that "They continue to sow discord with our elections."