On January 6, 2017, then Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson designated U.S. election systems as part of the nation’s critical infrastructure, a step that has led to much debate and discussion throughout the election community. That conversation was not necessarily anything new, however. The idea had been on the table for months before the January announcement and afterward many wondered if President Trump’s DHS Secretary pick, John Kelly, would maintain the designation. He has and that’s why the EAC is working to keep our stakeholders – especially state and local election leaders and voters – informed about the designation and what it means for them.
As a part of this effort to inform our stakeholders, I will blog here under the series title “CI Scoop.” This series will regularly discuss critical infrastructure, the designation of elections as critical infrastructure, and the issues surrounding the designation. The goal is to share what we know about critical infrastructure so our stakeholders can be more informed. The EAC is a national clearinghouse for elections administration information, and we know that moving forward providing information about DHS’s critical infrastructure designation is a crucial part of this role.
Today’s entry starts with two basic building blocks that are the questions we often hear. First, what is critical infrastructure? Second, what is the EAC doing in regards to critical infrastructure?
What is critical infrastructure?
Critical infrastructure is a DHS designation established by the Patriot Act and given to “systems and assets, whether physical or virtual, so vital to the United States that the incapacity or destruction of such systems and assets would have a debilitating impact on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination of those matters.” [i] The National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP) is DHS’s foundational document, or “rule book,” for how the nation’s critical infrastructure is protected. The NIPP established a process roadmap by which the nation’s critical infrastructure sectors can be identified and created.
In addition to the Patriot Act and NIPP, a third piece of critical infrastructure governing authority comes from Presidential Policy Directive 21 (PPD-21). Released on February 12, 2013, PPD-21 established the Federal Government’s “strategic imperatives” in its approach to the nation’s critical infrastructure. It established the current critical infrastructure sectors and identified each sector’s Sector Specific Agency (SSA), which is the agency charged with structuring and managing the sector.
What is the EAC doing in regards to critical infrastructure?
As part of its mandate to serve the election community, the Election Assistance Commission has studied the implications of this designation since its inception. The EAC remains in constant contact with DHS in order to discuss the designation, determine its implications, share election officials’ and administrators’ concerns, and help determine the best ways to ensure that election officials’ and administrators’ are represented throughout the designation process.
The EAC has set up meetings, a hearing, and traveled to other organizations’ meetings to provide election stakeholders with information related to the designation and give those stakeholders an opportunity to directly engage with DHS. We are asking the tough questions and helping to make sure that all parties involved have a voice at the table. For example, I recently traveled to Election Center’s Columbus, Ohio, where I joined DHS staff to conduct a workshop discussion about this issue. We are also starting to produce educational and guidance documents and products. You can expect to see these resources released soon, and they will be hosted on our EAC critical infrastructure webpage.
The critical infrastructure designation is a complex issue, and we at the EAC are dedicated to ensuring that those directly impacted by this decision are served and represented. DHS and election officials from across the nation have often praised the EAC for playing this crucial role, and we look forward to continuing this work. Please keep coming back to check out our CI Scoop blog series and let me know if there are topics you’d like us to address.
[i] Patriot Act, (Sec. 1016(e))