The controversial decision to eliminate the state's chief information security officer has inspired criticism, though state officials have promised a continued commitment to cybersecurity efforts.
In a move that has inspired no small amount of criticism, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo has opted to eliminate her cabinet’s cybersecurity officer position, cutting funding out of the state budget.
The decision is a controversial one given that many governments across the nation are currently opting to bolster cybersecurity efforts with increased funding, investment and cybersecurity-focused positions.
Still, the administration has defended its decision, saying that the move does not signal a decreased prioritization of security and defense.
Until this past month, the position had been held by Mike Steinmetz, a retired U.S. Navy Captain who served in both the National Security Agency and the Department of Defense. Steinmetz, who joined the cabinet in April of 2017, also served as the governor's adviser on matters of homeland security during his tenure.
Under Steinmetz, the agency developed a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy that multiple state officials are now working to implement, said Brenna McCabe, public information officer for the state’s Department of Administration.
Steinmetz is also credited by his peers with having shifted the work culture within the IT agency. In a memo sent to staff within the Department of Administration, Director Michael DiBiase said that the former cybersecurity officer helped increase employee awareness of proper security practices.
"Mike always said that users are the first line of defense for any organization," wrote DiBiase. "Addressing the complexity of today’s cyberthreats while laying the proper groundwork for state employees to play an active role in combatting those threats are the keys to success, and we have made a lot of progress."
“Cybersecurity remains a high priority for this administration, and our agencies will continue to collaborate with the goal of ensuring resiliency of our systems and protection of the state’s data and assets,” said McCabe, speaking with Government Technology.
In the wake of his departure, Steinmetz’s previous responsibilities will be distributed to a number of people and agencies. Adj. Gen. Chris Callahan of the U.S. National Guard will be assuming responsibilities for homeland security and counterterrorism, while also having a statewide focus on cybersecurity, McCabe said.
Meanwhile, the state’s Division of Information Technology will be collaborating with the Rhode Island State Police, the state Emergency Management Agency, and the National Guard on continuing issues of security and defense.
Steinmetz is now serving as the director and general partner of College Hill Ventures, PBC, a venture capital firm based in Providence that focuses on commercializing technologies from universities and early stage innovative companies, McCabe said.