Expert: Biden order jeopardizing security of U.S. power grid

Thursday, February 4, 2021
J.M. Phelps (

Electric linesOn his first day in office, President Joe Biden signed a record 17 executive orders. One of them, says a national security expert, contains a two-sentence provision that may have placed the security of America's electrical grid at risk.

Biden's Executive Order 13990 was purportedly issued to "tackle the climate crisis," but a closer look reveals what the Center for Security Policy considers a genuine threat to the security of America's electrical grid. Less than a year ago, then-President Donald Trump issued Executive Order 13920 upon "[finding] that foreign adversaries are increasingly creating and exploiting vulnerabilities in the United States bulk-power system, which provides the electricity that supports our national defense, vital emergency services, critical infrastructure, economy, and way of life."

However, Biden's recent order suspended for 90 days Trump's action of securing the United States bulk-power system – which some would argue has nothing to do with climate change.

Until now, Trump's order has sought to prevent the use of grid equipment made in China, Russia, or other nations hostile to the United States. But according to Section 7(c) of Biden's order, "the Secretary of Energy and the Director of OMB [Office of Management and Budget] shall jointly consider whether to recommend that a replacement [to Trump's] order be issued."

One News Now spoke to Tommy Waller, director of infrastructure security for the Center for Security Policy (CSP), about Trump's security measure being suspended for 90 days. Waller argues that Biden's decision to suspend Trump's order "creates a significant problem, as it insinuates what was put into place by President Trump is no longer applicable."


Waller questions whether Biden considers the security of the grid to be a matter of national importance. According to the expert, it is gravely important, because every one of the nation's critical infrastructures – and Americans' very survival – depends on the electrical grid.

The CSP spokesman explains that Secure the Grid Coalition, an ad hoc group of security experts and activists who are devoted to strengthening America's electrical grid, drafted a joint letter for the Biden administration's nominee for Secretary of Energy, former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, and the director of the Office of Management and Budget. The letter encourages those officials to recommend to the president that Trump's Executive Order 13920 be replaced with "a more powerful version."

Waller is hopeful the Biden administration will seize the opportunity to actually improve on Trump's executive order rather than permanently discarding it.

"With its concern about the climate and environment, the Biden administration should understand that prolonged or widespread electrical blackout would be catastrophic to the environment," he notes. And apart from environmental concerns, Waller explains:

"President Trump's executive order originated out of the realization that the nation's grid is insecure with respect to the supply chain. America's adversaries can, and do, create vectors for cyberattacks by supplying our utilities with hardware and software designed with backdoors and other cyber vulnerabilities baked in."

Regulations have fallen short

According to Waller, regulations have been ineffective in protecting the country from threats to supply chain cybersecurity. For example, he points out, no specific regulations prevent the use of electric grid components manufactured in countries like China and Russia.

"Some of these components could be used for taking out portions of the grid," he warns – adding that the regulatory environment has been ineffective at laying the groundwork for supply chain cybersecurity for at least two decades.

Still, he remains hopeful the Biden administration will realize that Trump's Executive Order 13920 was necessary because the U.S. has no effective regulatory regime with respect to security for the electrical grid. He bases that hope heavily on the extent to which Biden's nominees for Secretary of Energy and Director of OMB are able and willing to get fully informed on grid-related supply chain vulnerabilities and regulatory shortfalls prior to the established 90-day deadline.

He also points to Granholm's response to questions posed by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) during the nominee's confirmation hearings earlier this week:

Granholm: "We have to harden our electric grid for protection of our energy system. I hope that this is a part of the infrastructure package that will be coming from the administration as well."

Says Waller: "The 90-day clock is ticking for those words to turn into action."

2/5/2021 - Link added to letter penned by Secure the Grid Coalition.

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