Editorial: Making Cyber Security a Priority

Tucked away in the $618.7 billion National Defense Authorization Act that was overwhelmingly approved in a bipartisan U.S. Senate vote last week is a process tweak that could have a big impact on Northern Virginia while also improving the nation’s security.

Under the new law, Defense Department managers will no longer be required to apply the government’s Lowest Priced Technically Acceptable procurement standard when they contract for IT and cybersecurity services.

LPTA may be effective in keeping costs down when the department is buying pens, pencils and hammers, but that same low-bid test doesn’t generate the desired results when applied to the front lines of the cyber wars.

Tech leaders around the region—including John Wood, the CEO of Ashburn-based Telos, who testified on the issue before a House subcommittee earlier this year—had warned Congress of the inherent disconnect between the goal of making cyber security a national priority and the practice of pursuing the cheapest solutions, rather than those with the best value.

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, who championed the legislation, said the new rules should improve technological innovation and efficiency within the department while also getting the best long-term deal for taxpayers.

The measure has the added impact of offering an economic boost to the region’s high-tech industry. Companies taking on government work under the current system typically do so at a significant discount when compared to the investment private-sector companies are making to protect their businesses and their customers. It is more concerning than ironic that many of those companies are spending that money to comply with mandated security standards in excess of those applied to the government’s own agencies.

The massive Internet of Things cyberattack in October was illustrative of the largescale disruption now possible at the fingers of hackers. The debate over the theft of presidential campaign emails by foreign operatives provides a tip-of-the-iceberg view of the espionage wars being fought daily around the globe.

The work by Warner, Wood, Rep. Barbara Comstock and others pressing Congress to untie the hands of defense leaders is important in the critical race to maintain a strategic advantage on the rapidly changing cyber battlefield.