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Does Obama Dare to Issue a Cybersecurity Executive Order Before Election Day?


Next Monday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) kicks off National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, which features events and initiatives aimed at stressing the importance of good cyber security practices.  The timing of this annual event could not be more propitious given the mounting battle between President Obama and his Republican (and business lobby) adversaries over the expected, imminent executive order on cyber security the Administration has developed in the wake of failed cyber security legislation.

A  draft of the order was circulated earlier this month and it looks a lot like the Democratic-backed Cybersecurity Act of 2012, which was aimed at setting up government programs to ensure better cyber security information sharing for critical infrastructure industries.  (One major difference between the order and the Senate bill is that the order specifies by name 16 different sectors that constitute the “critical infrastructure” industries covered by the order, although energy and communications are spelled out upfront as “uniquely” critical sectors that cut across all the other industries.)

A growing number of developments hint that the executive order could come out any day now.  DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano told the Senate last week that the order is near completion, a host of current and former Pentagon officials are speaking out daily about the threat lax cyber security poses to the nation’s welfare while the Senate champion of the Cybersecurity Act, Joe Lieberman (I-CT) is pushing the president to get the order out the door.

Does all this add up to Obama issuing the executive order before the end of October?  Not exactly.  Despite the intense pressure and momentum, this is an election year and despite Obama’s current comfortable lead in the polls and the resulting lift for all Democratic contests, some smart insiders say the Administration won’t needlessly give Republicans any new ammunition before the polls close on Election Day by issuing what is already a controversial order.   Further dimming the order's pre-election day prospects are Republican rumblings of late that the Congress might still pass a bill before Inauguration Day.  Obama might be reluctant to look like he's pulling ahead of the legislative branch, even if it’s unlikely that the lame duck Congress can get the job done. 

On the other hand, the President could gain even more points in the polls by issuing the order, burnishing his already strong image on national defense.  But, if the smart money is right, look for an executive order no sooner than November 7.

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