May 22, 2019 / 10:04 PM / a month ago

U.S. election cybersecurity agency staff 'strained to the breaking point'

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As the U.S. government prepares to defend the 2020 presidential election from cyber threats, the federal agency charged with helping administer elections, the Election Assistance Commission, says it is “strained to the breaking point,” according to Chairwoman Christy McCormick.

“Obviously we’re a very small agency and quite under funded,” McCormick said on Wednesday during a House of Representatives Oversight Committee hearing. “We’re stretched very thin.”

McCormick told lawmakers the agency is seeking additional funding from Congress. That funding is part of a sweeping election reform package, known as H.R. 1, which passed the House earlier this year but has yet to be voted on in the Senate.

Multiple federal agencies, including the Justice Department, Homeland Security Department and intelligence community, play a role in protecting U.S. elections from foreign interference.

The Election Assistance Commission is responsible for setting standards and guidelines for election officials and voting equipment makers. But since the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the agency has also taken on additional responsibilities related to cybersecurity, McCormick said.

“We’re asking for more money so we can hire more staff to meet the demands. The EAC’s mission has expanded since it was created,” said McCormick. “We didn’t have the cybersecurity needs at the time. We always worried about election security but since 2016, this is an additional mission for our agency. And we’ve stepped up in every way we can given the resources we have.”

Those comments follow a prediction in late April by FBI Director Christopher Wray that the Russian government and others will likely attempt to meddle in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Lawmakers expressed concern on Wednesday about the EAC’s ability to perform its responsibilities because of a lack of resources.

“The pressure on you and the work that needs to be done has risen exponentially and you’re trying to do this with less resources and less people,” said Massachusetts Democrat Rep. Stephen Lynch. “I am worried.”

McCormick told lawmakers last week that the agency’s budget had been cut by 50 percent since 2010, when it had 49 staffers.

“If there’s going to be any practical impact on what happens in 2020 given the threats that have been discussed here today, urgent action is needed,” said Massachusetts Secretary of State Bill Galvin, who also testified during the same hearing on Wednesday. “Particularly at the level of the EAC.”

Reporting by Christopher Bing; Editing by Alistair Bell

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