Time Frames to Complete CISA Efforts Would Help Sector Risk Management Agencies Implement Statutory Responsibilities

Protecting critical infrastructure that helps provide necessities like water, electricity, and food is a national priority. Events like natural disasters or cyberattacks can disrupt services Americans need for daily life.

We testified that many federal agencies work to protect the nation's critical infrastructure and look to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency for leadership on how to do it.

A 2021 law expanded these agencies' responsibilities and added some new ones. CISA is working on guidance and more to help agencies implement these responsibilities. We've recommended that CISA set timelines for completing this work.

The William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 expanded and added responsibilities for Sector Risk Management Agencies (SRMAs). These agencies engage with their public and private sector partners to promote security and resilience within their designated critical infrastructure sectors. Some officials from these agencies described to GAO new activities to address the responsibilities set forth in the act, and many reported having already conducted related activities. For example, the act added risk assessment and emergency preparedness as responsibilities not previously included in a key directive for SRMAs. New activities officials described to address these responsibilities included developing a communications risk register and developing emergency preparedness exercises.

The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has identified and undertaken efforts to help SRMAs implement their statutory responsibilities. For example, CISA officials stated they are updating key guidance documents, including the 2013 National Infrastructure Protection Plan and templates for revising sector-specific guidance documents. CISA officials also described efforts underway to improve coordination with sector partners, such as reconvening a leadership council. SRMA officials for a majority of critical infrastructure sectors reported that additional guidance and improved coordination from CISA would help them implement their statutory responsibilities. However, CISA has not developed milestones and timelines to complete its efforts. Establishing milestones and timelines would help ensure CISA does so in a timely manner.
Why GAO Did This Study

Critical infrastructure provides essential functions––such as supplying water, generating energy, and producing food––that underpin American society. Disruption or destruction of the nation's critical infrastructure could have debilitating effects. CISA is the national coordinator for infrastructure protection.

The William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 includes a provision for GAO to report on the effectiveness of SRMAs in carrying out responsibilities set forth in the act. This statement addresses (1) how the act changed agencies' responsibilities, and the actions agencies have reported taking to address them; and (2) the extent to which CISA identified and undertook efforts to help agencies implement their responsibilities set forth in the act.

This statement is based on GAO's February 2023 report on SRMA efforts to carry out critical infrastructure protection responsibilities and CISA's efforts to help SRMAs implement those responsibilities. For that report, GAO analyzed the act and relevant policy directives, collected written responses from all 16 sectors using a standardized information collection tool, reviewed other DHS documents, and interviewed CISA officials.

In its February 2023 report, GAO recommended that CISA establish milestones and timelines to complete its efforts to help sector risk management agencies carry out their responsibilities. DHS concurred with the recommendation. Additionally, GAO has made over 80 recommendations which, when fully implemented, could help agencies address their statutory responsibilities.

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