A former Assistant Secretary for Infrastructure Protection at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said Thursday she believes that while the agency’s core cybersecurity operations are holding up through the partial Federal government shutdown, other important IT security initiatives appear to be lying fallow until the agency receives funding to operate and pay its employees.

Caitlin Durkovich, who was appointed assistant secretary in 2012 by President Obama and is now a director at Toffler Associates, said Thursday at an event hosted by Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, that among the agency’s core cybersecurity missions its National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center is operational and “managing major risks.”

Likewise, DHS’s role in protecting Federal civilian government networks is continuing, as is its DNS security work, she said.

But other work on preparedness and resilience-focused projects has slipped during the shutdown, because some of those areas are not tied to the protecting human life and property, she said.

In particular, Durkovich said that further rollouts of DHS’s Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation (CDM) program have been “delayed,” and that planning activities for infrastructure protection have been impeded.

And she said that DHS’ work on an initiative to examine how to improve supply chain security “has stopped” during the shutdown.

She reminded that strategic threats to the U.S.–both in cyberspace and other emerging domains–continue to grow each day regardless of whether the Federal government is shuttered or not, and emphasized that constant efforts to improve preparedness and resilience are “integral” to DHS’s mission. “If we don’t keep that up we will lose critical momentum,” she said.

Beyond specific DHS programs that are feeling crimped by the shutdown, Durkovich spoke passionately about the plight of private contractors in the shutdown, particularly smaller firms. The shutdown, she said, is “particularly devastating for small contractors,” and she predicted some of those will go out of business as a result.

“I cannot underscore [enough] the enormous impact that will have on DHS missions, particularly cyber,” she said.

And Durkovich said the shutdown’s impact on DHS employees that are not getting paid may also come back to bite the government.

“There are reports that recruiters are starting to poach the best talent” from DHS, she said. “There is anecdotal evidence that talent is getting offers” from private sector firms, she said, adding, “We are going to lose continuity and knowledge” with employees who find jobs elsewhere.

Along with the potential drain of experienced employees, DHS recruiting efforts are also on hold, she said, meaning that “our pipeline will take a hit.”

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.