White House cybersecurity coordinator Howard Schmidt will step down at the end of May and retire from public service, various news organizations confirmed Thursday, May 17.
Schmidt was a direct adviser to President Obama for the past two and a half years, and oversaw the White House’s first legislative proposal on cybersecurity. Schmidt is credited with contributing to the development of the White House's first international strategy for cyberspace, as well as a national strategy to created trusted online identities. He was a holdover from the George W. Bush administration, where he served on the Critical Infrastructure Protection Board.
Schmidt, 62, is departing amid continued debate about new federal cybersecurity legislation intended to address the rising threat of cyberattacks. So far none of the bills — known as CISPA and SOPA — has made it to the president’s desk, the proposals eliciting fierce opposition from online privacy advocates and some big Internet companies. Schmidt has publicly supported the White House’s stance of a presidential veto of CISPA on the grounds of protecting personal privacy.
Schmidt will be succeeded by 41-year-old Michael Daniel, chief of the White House Budget Office’s intelligence branch. Daniel has worked at the Office of Management and Budget for 17 years and has spent the past 10 years handling cybersecurity.
Before Schmidt’s appointment as cybersecurity coordinator, he worked as a security officer for Microsoft and then eBay, co-founded R & H Security Consulting, and became the president and CEO of the not-for-profit Information Security Forum, an organization that helps companies fight cybercrime.
"It has been a tremendous honor for me to have served in this role and to have worked with such dedicated and professional colleagues both in the government and private sector," Schmidt said in a statement. "We have made real progress in our efforts to better deal with the risks in cyberspace so, around the world, we can all realize the full benefits that cyberspace brings us."
After Obama took office, the position Schmidt would eventually fill was offered to several private industry executives, but no one took the position. The rumor at that time was that being Obama’s cybersecurity coordinator was a position of little authority, because the lines of jurisdiction in the budding arena of cybersecurity were still being established and authority was splintered throughout federal agencies.
Schmidt responded to such claims by saying that a position in the Office of the president is powerful by default. “When you’ve got the president directing you to do something, I don’t know how clout gets any bigger than that,” he said.
However, Schmidt’s role was thought to have been crowded by Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency and head of the military’s Cyber Command.
Despite any professional overlap, Schmidt’s leadership “has made a difference both within the federal government and throughout the nation, and he will be missed,” Alexander said in a statement.
As cybersecurity coordinator, Schmidt also caught flak for not being high profile enough. According to Federal News Radio, Schmidt said he was more interested in improving government operations behind the scenes than announcing what they were doing and working with other government bodies.
Perhaps Schmidt was simply more of a doer than a politician. "The discussion's already taken place,” Schmidt told Federal News Radio. “Now we're getting from talking about stuff to actually getting it done. And that doesn't involve me going out and meeting with agencies," he said.
Schmidt first entered public service in 1967, studying weapons for the Air Force. He completed three tours of duty in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, retiring from active duty in 1974 and he went on to work for the FBI’s National Drug Intelligence Center and as a special agent for the Air Force, where he established the government’s first dedicated computer forensics lab.
According to The Washington Post, Schmidt said he will use his retirement to spend more time with his family, pursue teaching and ride his Harley-Davidson motorcycle west.
Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.