President Joe Biden had his nomination to serve as the White House cybersecurity chief confirmed by the Senate this week.
The vote to approve Harry Coker as the second national cyber director in history was close, with 59 senators voting in favor and 40 voting against. Coker is a retired officer from the Navy and once served as an official with the National Security Agency.
He has served in public roles for more than 40 years, which includes time as the NSA’s executive director, a role he served in between 2017 and 2019.
According to the White House, during that tenure, he helped to manage and lead the largest single component of the intelligence community in the U.S.
Now that he has been confirmed, Coker will fill a role that has been vacant since the resignation of Chris Inglis back in February. Inglis was the first director.
In July, Biden announced that he would be nominating Coker to fill that role, but it took five months for that to finally come to fruition.
The backlash in the time since has come from Republicans who were seemingly more concerned about the position itself than about Coker serving in it. Some members of the GOP in the Senate have voiced concerns that the position could censor speech by strong-arming companies that run social media platforms, for instance.
Yet, during his confirmation hearing, Coker said he was committed to having the government stay out of the digital censorship realm. He also affirmed that the Biden administration has every intention to collaborate with major private big tech giants.
At his nomination hearing in front of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in the Senate, Coker said:
“I a proponent, a strong proponent, of First and Fourth Amendment, free speech and privacy. I do not see any role in ONCD in that area.”
In order to succeed in his role, it will be essential for Coker to work hand-in-hand with colleagues that lead other government agencies. That’s because there are significant logistical and political obstacles that stand in the way of getting things done, as well as relationships that have been strained among departments from the past.
Coker said that his experience in private corporations has shown him “the need for stronger partnerships” between industries and the government. He even promised to ensure collaboration will be “the guiding principle for the administration’s cyber work,” since tech companies stand “on the front line” of the fight against bad actors such as hackers.
One of the biggest things Coker will be tasked with is trying to stoke interest in careers in the cybersecurity industry. There is currently a huge talent shortage in the U.S. sector right now.
The Office of the National Cyber Director was created by Congress back in 2021. Its goal is to coordinate cybersecurity policies from the federal level, and to advise presidents on all policy matters.
President Joe Biden, though, created the national security council position so someone would be able to oversee cyber policy matters.