Castle Hill Lighthouse in Newport, R.I. (Photo: JJM Photography, Shutterstock)

Rhode Island Eliminates Cybersecurity Officer From State Cabinet

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, a Democrat, has eliminated the Cybersecurity Officer position from her cabinet. Unlike most states, which are pouring additional funding into cybersecurity, Raimondo has cut all funding from the Cybersecurity Officer’s role, which was held by Mike Steinmetz since the position was created in 2017.  The Cybersecurity Officer functions will be distributed among other state agencies, according to a published report.

When Steinmetz was initially hired, Raimondo heaped praise on him and showed interest in strengthening cybersecurity in the state.

“Modern infrastructure is more than just roads and bridges,” Raimondo said in 2017. “It’s also the digital connections we’re making faster and more frequently than ever before. In the ever-changing technology ecosystem, it is imperative that Rhode Island stay up to speed … I look forward to working with Mike in his new role to develop a clear strategy to prepare the public and private sectors for the technological challenges of the 21st century.”

While there was no public announcement of Steinmetz’s departure, Rhode Island Administration Director Mike DiBiase told other cabinet members about the departure via a memo in early June, according to The Providence Journal.

“One of the biggest challenges we faced prior to his tenure was the culture and lack of awareness around cybersecurity within our agencies,″ DiBiase said. “Mike always said that users are the first line of defense for any organization … and we have made a lot of progress. The first Executive Branch cybersecurity awareness training in 2018 showed significant improvement in state employees’ reactions to test phishing emails, and that annual training continues.”

He further praised Steinmetz’s accomplishments during his tenure. “Mike [also] led statewide efforts to craft a cyber incident response plan … improved cybersecurity monitoring processes and partnered closely with the Secretary of State’s Office in leading a multi-agency group to enhance protection of the State’s election systems.”

While cutting all funding from the position is a clear indication Steinmetz would not be replaced, Department of Administration Spokeswoman Brenna McCabe further confirmed that the state would not be hiring a new Cybersecurity Officer. Instead, McCabe said that “Adj. Gen. Chris Callahan of the National Guard will be assuming responsibilities related to homeland security and counter-terrorism. He will also have a statewide focus on cybersecurity.” Steinmetz’s other responsibilities will be divided among Rhode Island’s Division of Information Technology, as well as the Rhode Island State Police, Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency, and the National Guard. “They will continue to collaborate … [on] protection of the State’s data and assets,” McCabe said.

As to Steinmetz’s future plans, DiBiase said he would be leaving the state government “at the end of [June] to serve as Director and General Partner of College Hill Ventures, PBC, a venture capital company based in Providence … He will (also) be providing consulting and public policy advisory services related to cybersecurity.”

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