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House Bipartisan Bill Aims to Improve HHS Cybersecurity

November 2, 2017
by Heather Landi
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Reps. Billy Long (R-MO) and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) introduced new legislation Wednesday that would allow the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to reorganize its cybersecurity personnel and gives the HHS Secretary authority to designate an officer focused on cybersecurity.

The legislation, H.R. 4191, the HHS Cybersecurity Modernization Act, is designed to address cyber threats to HHS, according to Reps Long and Matsui, who are both members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

During April and June Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearings that examined health care cybersecurity efforts, health care sector stakeholders and HHS testified on improvements to the department’s capabilities in managing threats, the appointment of a “cybersecurity designee,” the creation and deployment of a health care focused cyber threat coordination center, and the work completed by the Health Care Industry Cybersecurity Task Force called for under Section 405 of the Cybersecurity Act of 2015, according to a House Energy and Commerce Committee press release about the legislation.

However, recent cybersecurity threats like WannaCry and NotPetya indicate that more work is necessary, the committee members concluded.

The HHS Cybersecurity Modernization Act would support these recent efforts at HHS and build upon the work prompted by Section 405 by giving the Secretary of HHS the authority to reorganize its cybersecurity personnel and to designate an officer within HHS as chief information security officer (CISO) as having primary responsibility for the information security, including cybersecurity, programs of the department. In addition, the legislation directs that the CISO would report directly to the HHS Secretary.

The legislation also requires HHS to develop and submit a plan regarding the following:

  • The internal coordination between HHS offices that have regulatory authority with regards to health care cybersecurity, and how those offices will coordinate their efforts to provide a “whole-of-department” response to modern cybersecurity challenges.
  • The role of HHS in securing its own internal information systems as compared to its role in providing guidance, information, education, training, and assistance to the health care sector, and how it will differentiate between those two roles.
  • The challenges HHS faces as both the regulator and the Sector Specific Agency for health care, and how it will differentiate between these two roles.

“We can always do more to boost our cybersecurity efforts, and while HHS has made some important strides in this effort, we think more can and should be done to help protect the sensitive information the department holds,” Long and Matsui said in prepared statements. “We are particularly hopeful for the results that could yield from HHS detailing such a plan and look forward to continued efforts to address potential cyber threats.”


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