Thank you, Erin, for the introduction and for officially convening the inaugural meeting of President Biden’s National Infrastructure Advisory Council.
Welcome to the White House – and thank you for engaging in this vital endeavor that is so important to the President, the administration, and literally every community in this country.
As the President’s Homeland Security Advisor, it is a privilege to initiate this first meeting with this newly appointed group of leaders from all of our critical infrastructure sectors. We need YOUR expertise to effectively address one of the toughest challenges we face in America today, which is ensuring the integrity and resilience of our country’s vital sectors.
Just look at today’s headlines: from Puerto Rico to Florida, we have citizens recovering from or anticipating the potentially devastating effects of extreme weather on their critical infrastructure.
And as you heard in your intelligence briefing, our global rivals intend to develop ways to disrupt our way of life by threatening our critical infrastructure.
Since NIAC’s inception in the aftermath of 9/11, this group has had the formidable task of providing practical new solutions to all of the risks facing our nation – from extreme weather events to cyber intrusions and attacks. physical.
We knew we had to step up this effort when we took office in January 2021, and in a long and rigorous process, we assembled a new team to serve on this Board. The President took the time to review and consider each candidate for this opportunity to serve.
Although he will not be joining us today, he will be following the work of this group closely in the months to come and we will be looking for an opportunity for you to update him as your recommendations come to fruition. .
To that end, I would like to provide some background on the President’s views and priorities on critical infrastructure, and his expectations for this body before handing the floor over to my closest colleague and great friend, Secretary Mayorkas, so that he officially takes your oath.
And those views are shaped in part by the experiences and challenges we’ve faced over the past 20 months together.
This includes an unprecedented range of extreme weather events across our country. These include the Texas Ice Storm in early February 2021 when we were all new to our roles, the devastating and extended wildfire season of 2021 and the fires we have faced in the Southwest this year, the he Hurricane Ida that left a path of destruction from Louisiana to New York City last year, Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico just over a week ago, where nearly all 1.5 million of customers on the island lost power in an instant, and the sweltering heat and ongoing drought in the West is threatening lives and livelihoods.
In addition to extreme weather events, we obviously face escalating cyber threats to our critical infrastructure, some of which you heard about in today’s classified briefing. These threats are compounded by the growing convergence between our cyber and physical domains.
And we are also preparing for the reality of physical attacks on our infrastructure, whether they come from outside or inside our country.
These threats to our soft underbelly became apparent to me when I served in the Obama administration and the Metcalf substation was attacked in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was a wake-up call that led me to launch and lead a major effort to build resilience in the energy sector, which has been at the forefront of innovation to strengthen our infrastructure against all the threats we face. I worked closely on this endeavor with several of the participants in this group.
In this administration, incidents like last year’s ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline demonstrate that we can no longer treat something exclusively as a cyber or physical incident. On the contrary, everything is potentially a “hybrid” incident with very real and tangible impacts on our citizens and on our economy.
The President’s approach to all of these events impacting American communities has been consistent: We must look forward to do all we can to to prepare for these events before they happen to prevent them if we can, but if we can’t, then be prepared to rally the full force of the federal government to do everything possible to alleviate the suffering and expedite the restoring.
And he always emphasizes a fundamental value: that in the event of a disaster, there are no red states or blue states, only people in urgent need of help.
Yet while well-coordinated preparedness and response have been the foundation of our efforts, we know that when it comes to critical infrastructure, there will always be threats that we cannot prevent. tomorrow and so we need to build that resilience today. And if we build that resilience, the impact of what we can’t prevent will be less severe and communities will recover faster.
That’s why the President has made groundbreaking investments in infrastructure and community rresiliencefrom the bipartisan Infrastructure Act you’ll hear more about today from White House Infrastructure Implementation Coordinator Mitch Landrieu, to the recently enacted Cut Inflation Act, to the increased investment in community resilience.
We are committed to ensuring that the dollars we spend on infrastructure are invested with resilience as a key feature – and that it is built in from the start of the design phase. To do this, we must ensure that new investments in clean energy and other modern infrastructure do not create new attack surfaces and vulnerabilities, but rather result in safer and more secure systems on which Americans can count in times of crisis.
In designing and administering programs and distributing aid under the bipartisan Infrastructure Act (BIL), my team here at the White House, in close coordination with Mitch Landrieu, is asking federal agencies to integrate the principles of all-hazards resilience, cybersecurity and risk reduction. , and full life cycle resilience in their program orientations.
In an effort to build resilience, we must also consider ways to resolve the tension between “building back fast” and building back better. For example, when we restore essential services to a community following a disaster, we actually want to leave that community stronger than it was before. We are working on it in real time in Puerto Rico. Fundamentally, we need to build more resilient infrastructure to withstand future threats and simultaneously expand the economic opportunities that come with more modern infrastructure, like broadband.
And that’s where NIAC can help.
We need your guidance and expertise to help us navigate the ever-changing threat landscape and to help us better support our critical infrastructure owners and operators. And in the spirit of this body, we cannot do this work alone.
Collaboration with the private sector, think tanks and academia, and our state, local, tribal and territorial government partners is absolutely essential, as we work to address these threats and strengthen the Nation’s critical infrastructure. Most of our critical infrastructure is in private hands, so we literally can’t do this work with you.
I will end with a final observation. The challenges facing our critical infrastructure are severe – and will be exacerbated as our adversaries become more sophisticated and climate change continues to accelerate.
But as we’ve seen over the last year and a half – and I’ve personally seen it over my years in public service – from working at twenty-six for President Biden in the Senate, to several years from assistant secretary for energy in the Obama administration, to my current role as homeland security adviser, we are at our best as a nation when we come together to do the hard things. And I believe the hardest things are the most worth working on, which is why we’re here together today.
It is now my great pleasure to introduce our Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, to say a few words and formally swear you in. Secretary Mayorkas, on behalf of the President, I would like to thank you and the CISA team for your leadership and support.