Army secretary nominee Christine Wormuth said she’d explore a proposed cyber reserve force, improve Army recruiting efforts aimed at tech-savvy Americans and deal with Army modernization programs that were vulnerable to cyber threats in recent evaluations.
The slate of promises during Wormuth’s nomination hearing Thursday came after a recent ransomware attack that sparked gasoline shortages along the Eastern Seaboard.
The hack targeting the Colonial Pipeline triggered a wave of panic-buying at gas stations around the country, including on military bases in the South.
“I am greatly concerned, frankly, by the threats that we face in the cyber domain,” Wormuth told lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee. “All you have to do is look at the long gas lines that are probably happening in your neighborhood right now as a result of the Colonial Pipeline situation.”
Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., asked Wormuth about the possibility of creating a specialized cyber reserve program “in order to meet surge capacity,” if needed. Rosen and Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., introduced a bill in April that would establish a “Civilian Cyber Security Reserve.”
A new bill aims to improve governors' ability to decide when and how to deploy their state’s National Guard to respond to cyber threats.
The Army secretary nominee supported examining the idea, saying, “There may be a possibility to have…[a] strategic reserve of people who have cyber skills that could be called into service if we needed a surge.”
Wormuth also highlighted existing capabilities in the National Guard, which assisted with cyber security during the 2020 Presidential election.
But recruiting and retaining cyber talent has been hard for the Pentagon, and the Army is no exception. Wormuth said she’d work with Rosen and Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, D-N.Y., to address the shortfall.
“We could probably do more to explain to young people about the opportunities for folks who are technologically inclined to be able to perform [cyber] missions,” said Wormuth.
“The authority to direct appoint officers was last used on this scale during World War II,” said an Army Talent Management Task Force official.
“We need to do more to think creatively about how to bring people in potentially laterally,” she added, referring to recruiting more mid-career civilian cyber professionals. Wormuth said she would explore “whether we could do more” on special hiring authorities for such positions.
Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., pressed Wormuth on the service’s plans to “appoint an independent principal cyber advisor,” who “must have a seat at the table during senior leader meetings and forums to ensure cybersecurity measures, actions, programs and policies are synchronized and coordinated.”
The Army secretary nominee said she would appoint and “work very closely with my principal cyber advisor” to implement cyber policy across the service.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., also asked Wormuth about whether the Army’s weapons modernization programs could survive against enemy cyber threats, citing testimony in the readiness subcommittee that “shocked” him last week.
“None of the weapons programs...evaluated in FY 20 were survivable against relevant cyber threats,” he said.
Wormuth agreed that the threat was “a serious issue,” and promised to work with lawmakers to evaluate and protect “the integrity of the modernization programs that we have underway, as well as the integrity of our secure communication network.”