Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has urged his colleagues to vote this week for a cybersecurity bill that would require power companies and utilities to comply with federal cybersecurity regulations.
Reid has prioritized the bill — called the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 — ahead of passing the defense budget, resulting in criticism from congressional Republicans.
A source with knowledge of the process said that Reid could bring the bill to the Senate floor for a vote on Thursday.
There is incredible debate over whether government regulation of security standards is the right way to keep the nation’s critical networks safe from attack.
Many lawmakers and President Barack Obama fear looming disaster and mass destruction should a computer virus cripple the networks of the nation’s power and utilities companies.
Supporters of federal regulation say the bill is needed because not every company vulnerable to an attack is taking the threat seriously. Many companies that operate critical infrastructure networks are not investing in network security, they argue, due to the lack of federal regulations, and others would wait until after they’ve been attacked.
Investment in security would increase network operators’ costs, which is the reason why companies decline to upgrade security.
The bill does not require specific “commercial” cybersecurity technologies, but gives federal agencies responsible for regulating critical infrastructure the power to “adopt the cybersecurity practices as mandatory requirements.”
If an agency responsible for regulating critical infrastructure chooses not to make the cybersecurity practices mandatory, within one year the agency must report to Congress why it did not make the practices mandatory.
Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain attacked Reid during a speech on the Senate floor Monday for wanting to rush a bill that he called “flawed,” and for placing the bill ahead of the defense budget, which he said also contained cybersecurity provisions.
While a new version of the bill released last Thursday is being branded as a compromise with Republicans by its sponsors, Republican opposition to the bill has been fierce, signaling that the new version is anything but a compromise in the eyes of its opponents.
Reid and bill sponsor Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, said they have less support than initially expected.
Reid defended his decision on Tuesday, but that same day The Heritage Foundation’s lobbying arm — Heritage Action –threatened lawmakers that a vote in favor of the cybersecurity bill would count negatively on its yearly legislative scorecard.
“The federal government does not have a good track record of properly regulating industries without harm,” said Heritage Action in a blog post Tuesday.