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RSA's Coviello declines cybersecurity coordinator post

The federal cybersecurity coordinator position remains vacant more than six months after the Obama administration announced it.

Art Coviello, the president of RSA, the security division of EMC, is among several business leaders who have declined an offer from the Obama administration to become cybersecurity coordinator.

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In an annual dinner for invited press Monday, Coviello said an early advisor to the Obama administration contacted him to gauge his interest in such a position. Coviello said it didn't take him long to reach a decision.

"Nobody wants that job," he said. "It doesn't report to the right people."

President Obama announced the creation of the White House senior cybersecurity coordinator position in May. Obama said he would personally select the person for the position and would give the person regular access to the Oval Office. But the position has been criticized by experts for its lack of authority. It doesn't report directly to the president and instead is part of the National Security Council and National Economic Council. 

Cybersecurity coordinator:

Obama announces creation of cybersecurity coordinator position: The president promised to treat critical infrastructure as a strategic national asset, and that the cybersecurity coordinator would be responsible for orchestrating cybersecurity policy.

Hathaway joins Harvard to contribute to DOD project: Melissa Hathaway will help the Harvard Kennedy School contribute to Project Minerva, research funded by the Department of Defense. 

Cybersecurity czar candidate questions clout of new position: Former U.S. Congressman Tom Davis, a leading candidate for the White House cybersecurity czar, says the job has a number of major challenges to overcome.

Coviello called the issue of federal cybersecurity extremely complex and said making tough bureaucratic decisions to develop cybersecurity policy would be difficult without the implied authority of the president. Some White House senior officials fear cybersecurity issues would get in the way of innovation if the position wielded too much authority, he said.

In addition to heading RSA, Coviello is executive vice president at EMC. He was CEO of RSA Security Inc. prior to its acquisition by EMC in 2006 for $2.1 billion.

The Obama administration has been under pressure to fill the post and do something to address a skyrocketing number of attacks against the country's digital infrastructure. Federal agencies and Department of Defense contractors have been under constant attack from nation states and hackers for much of the decade.

Security experts have pointed out that previous cybersecurity positions, cybersecurity czars and directors at the Department of Homeland Security, have been unable to make any significant changes to lock down federal systems. Virtually nothing can get done without some kind of budgetary authority, security expert Bruce Schneier has said about the vacant position. An advisor can set priorities and try to carry them out, but won't have the clout to force government agencies to make changes and adhere to policies. 

The new position, according to the Obama Administration, would develop a strategy to secure communication and data networks, coordinate a response plan with state and local governments, strengthen public-private partnerships to better secure critical network infrastructure, and promote a national cybersecurity awareness program.

Numerous security luminaries have been rumored to be asked to fill the position, including Schneier, former cybersecurity czar Howard Schmidt and former White House advisor Paul Kurtz. Melissa Hathaway, the former Bush Administration official who was tapped by Obama to conduct a 60-day review of security policies, was long thought to be a front runner. Hathaway has since left the White House to take on a senior advisor position at Harvard University.

Tom Davis, a former Republican congressman from Virginia, was also a leading candidate, but has publicly questioned the clout of the position, suggesting the legislative and bureaucratic issues that lie ahead are so complex that it's unclear what the position would entail.

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