Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., criticized the Justice Department’s lack of a cybersecurity representative to coordinate with Congress on legislative issues at a Department of Justice Oversight hearing on Wednesday.
“It really complicates life if there is not somebody at the Department of Justice whose job it is to work with us on cybersecurity legislation. And the silence has been deafening,” said Whitehouse. “The issue is, there are things we need to fix legislatively on cybersecurity, and, at the moment, I can’t find a point of entry into this administration of anybody who is working on cybersecurity on this administration or who is appointed to or delegated to.”
Though Attorney General Jeff Sessions recommended that the Senator contact the legislative affairs office for cybersecurity coordination, Whitehouse said that multiple letters of request sent to that department have gone unanswered.
“We have a lot of trouble getting answers to anything out of the Department of Justice,” said Whitehouse. “Please don’t refer me to the people who are supposed to be in charge of this relationship, when they won’t even answer my mail.”
The backlog of letters sent to the DOJ expands beyond Sen. Whitehouse’s complaints, as Sessions told the Justice Committee that he had inherited a “very significant backlog” of unanswered congressional inquiries.
“We have already reduced that by half. You can be sure that we’ll continue to reduce that backlog, and it will remain a priority of ours,” said Sessions.
Whitehouse was not the only Senator intent on coordinating with the Justice Department on cyber issues. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said that she hopes to work with the DOJ on legislative solutions to the dark web.
“It seems that the problem of the dark web being used by criminals is going to grow in the coming years. Do you have any plans to address it, or would you begin to think about it so that we may have some conversation?” said Feinstein. “I’d like to work with you on it if it requires legislation, in particular.”
Sessions told Feinstein that the DOJ and FBI are “very concerned” about dark web activity, especially as it relates to the illegal drug trade in the U.S.
Senators also wanted to know how the DOJ would assist in thwarting election hacking in the upcoming voting cycle. Sen Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said that she and Senator Lindsey Grahm, R-S.C., had introduced an amendment to the Senate National Defense Authorization Act that would provide assistance to states looking to secure their electing infrastructure, and questioned what involvement the DOJ has had in this issue.
“The FBI has capabilities and has experience in many of these matters, and have some superior capabilities,” said Sessions. “So I do think it’s an important matter, and I look forward to working with you on it. And we do not need in any way to subject our election process to some sort of electronic alteration on the vote totals, that would be a stunning disaster and cannot happen.”
Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.