U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (R) and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (L) testify before the Senate Appropriations Committee May 16, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (R) and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (L) testify before the Senate Appropriations Committee May 16, 2023, in Washington, D.C. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

State Department Worries About Cyber Vulnerabilities Amid Debt Debate

The department wants to spend nearly $1 billion on cybersecurity in 2024 to improve networks and communications devices.

Cybersecurity, along with many other State Department efforts, is imperiled by the debt-ceiling debate and the likelihood that Congress won’t pass a 2024 budget by the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1, the department’s secretary told senators Tuesday.

The proposed budget includes money for “critical infrastructure in making sure that we can help develop secure communications networks, undersea cables, and a secure cyberspace. In these and so many other ways, we would be significantly hindered,” State Department Secretary Antony Blinken testified during Tuesday’s Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on U.S. security investments and China relations. “We'd also have real challenges when it comes to the investments that we need to make in security and upgrades—physical and cyber—leaving our personnel, leaving our facilities, leaving our cyber defense more vulnerable than it otherwise would be.”

The State Department requested $750 million to strengthen its cybersecurity programs, such as implementing zero trust architecture, which continually checks for breaches and unauthorized network access, and securing the workforce’s end-user devices. 

With respect to China, Blinken said the president’s 2024 budget proposal has “critical” elements needed to expand missions in the Indo-Pacific region and “counter China's growing influence” and bolster the U.S. as an international partner.

Moreover, he said the prospect of flat or delayed funding would “be sending a broader message of retreat at [the] very time when we need to be sending the opposite message around the world.” 

Blinken’s comments were part of a three-hour hearing in which senators and the secretaries of Defense and Commerce repeatedly warned that any further delay in government funding for next year could hamper national security and hand advantage to Beijing. 

The tone of the hearing was familiar. It’s been decades since Congress completed its budget work on time. Department heads regularly warn that critical acquisitions of things like warships and munitions would stall under a continuing resolution, stopgap funding that has become a normal part of the budget cycle. 

GOP lawmakers’ threats to prevent the United States from paying bills approved by Congress in previous years have led congressional defense committees to postpone their markups of bills that authorize funding and often include a slew of policy changes. Appropriators, however, are expected to markup spending bills this month and resolve differences when required, Roll Call reported. 

Still, there’s worry about tardy funding bills. Sen. Patty Murray, the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, pushed for consistent funding, saying it would prevent the U.S. from “ceding ground to the governments of China and Russia” and that “keeping our country safe and competitive is not just about defense spending.”

“Keeping our communities safe means funding to stop deadly fentanyl from crossing our borders and dangerous cyber attacks that can decimate our infrastructure, our schools, our hospitals and more,” Murray said. “And when it comes to keeping our competitive edge on the world stage, that means investing in American innovation with funding for [research and development], advanced manufacturing, like we passed in the chips and science act, clean energy jobs, cutting edge biomedical research, emergent technologies, like AI and more.”