By any measure, our nation and its leaders face unprecedented challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. One such challenge is the security of our supply chains. From personal protective equipment to ventilators, cleaning and sterilization equipment to a host of pharmaceuticals, we are dependent on other countries to fulfill those needs, including unfriendly actors like China.
Unfortunately, we also depend on similar nations regarding an absolute imperative of modern life. America’s power grid, which supplies the electricity that flows through our homes, businesses, and communities, runs on components that are often produced abroad.
Moreover, some of the same foreign powers that produce those components have been targeting our grid for years, principally through cyberattacks.
The danger to our country could not be more obvious. Imagine if, as a result of that insecurity or those cyberattacks, our grid had gone down during the recent peak of the coronavirus pandemic in New York City. Picture the effect on hospitals alone. The results would have been catastrophic. Similar power disruptions could yield severe consequences for every other institution in our society.
Clearly, this state of affairs imperils our national and economic security, and thankfully, President Trump and his Administration fully recognize the danger. I applaud the President for addressing this head-on and signing an Executive Order (EO) to secure the U.S. bulk-power system from foreign threats.
The first step must involve identifying vulnerabilities to those threats, so the EO directs that the entire bulk-power system be assessed accordingly. Once that assessment takes place, the problems can be mitigated and the asset owners – public or private – can replace, isolate or monitor the affected equipment when necessary.
A second and key step gets to the heart of the matter by addressing the threats themselves.
Unfortunately, due to current government procurement rules, tens of millions of dollars of contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, including bidders abroad, which leaves our energy infrastructure exposed to foreign actors harboring malicious intent.
The President’s EO puts a stop to this vulnerability. It prohibits the use of bulk-power system equipment from any country or national deemed a foreign adversary, the failure of which would threaten national security, and allows only secure components from American companies and other trusted sources.
Finally, the President has directed my colleagues and me to establish a task force to implement this work. As Secretary of Energy, I am honored to lead this undertaking. The Department of Energy (DOE) will work closely with our partners in the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, and the Interior, as well as with the Office of Management and Budget, the Director of National Intelligence, and the heads of any other agencies that DOE may designate in consultation with the Secretaries of Defense and the Interior. Our goal will be to ensure national security considerations are fully integrated into government energy security and cybersecurity policymaking.
Clearly, the President recognizes the growing threats from foreign actors to our energy infrastructure. His latest action bolsters our defenses significantly with a whole-of-government approach to defeat them all, and keep America’s lights on.