Thank you, Erin, for the introduction and for formally calling the inaugural meeting of President Biden’s National Infrastructure Advisory Council to order.
Welcome to the White House – and thank you for committing to this vital endeavor that is so important to the President, the Administration, and to literally every community across this Nation.
As the President’s Homeland Security Advisor, it is a privilege to launch this first convening with this newly appointed group of leaders from across our critical infrastructure sectors. We need YOUR expertise to effectively meet one of the toughest challenges we face in America today, which is ensuring the integrity and resilience of our nation’s lifeline sectors.
Just look at today’s headlines: from Puerto Rico to Florida, we have citizens recovering from or anticipating the potentially devastating impacts of extreme weather on their critical infrastructure.
And as you heard in your intelligence briefing, our global rivals are intent on developing means of disrupting our way of life by threatening our critical infrastructure.
Since the NIAC was first established in the wake of 9/11, this group has had the formidable task of driving new, practical solutions to the full spectrum of risks facing our nation — from extreme weather events to cyber intrusions to physical attacks.
We knew we needed to lift up this effort when we took office in January 2021, and in a long and rigorous process we built a new team to serve on this Council. The President took time to review and consider every nominee for this opportunity to serve.
Although he will not join us today, he will follow the work of this group closely in the months to come and we will look for an opportunity for you to brief him as your recommendations are solidified.
To that end, I would like to provide some context on the President’s views and priorities regarding critical infrastructure, and his expectations for this body before I turn the floor over to my closest colleague and great friend Secretary Mayorkas to formally swear you in.
And these 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 have included the early February 2021 Texas Ice Storm when we were all new in our roles, the devastating and protracted 2021 wildfire season and the fires we have faced across the Southwest this year, 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 of the island’s 1.5 million customers lost power in an instant, and ongoing sweltering heat and drought in the West that threatens lives and livelihoods.
In addition to extreme weather events, we are obviously facing escalating cyber threats to our critical infrastructure, some of which you heard about in today’s classified briefing. These threats are being compounded by the growing convergence between our cyber and physical domains.
And we also are preparing for the reality of physical attacks on our infrastructure, whether from outside our country or within.
These threats to our soft underbelly first became evident to me when I served in the Obama Administration and the Metcalf Substation was attacked in the San Francisco Bay Area. That was a wake-up call that led me to launch and lead a major effort to strengthen resilience in the energy sector, which has been in the forefront of driving innovation to harden our infrastructure against the full spectrum of threats we face. I worked closely on that 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. To the contrary, everything is potentially a “hybrid” incident with very real, 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 lean forward to do everything we can to prepare for these events before they happen to prevent them if we can, but if we cannot, then to be ready to rally the full strength of the Federal government to do everything feasible to alleviate suffering and accelerate recovery.
And he always emphasizes a core value: that when disaster strikes, there are no red states or blue states, only people urgently in need of help.
Yet while well-coordinated preparedness and response has been foundational to 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 be building that resilience today. And if we build that resilience, the impact of what we cannot prevent will be less severe and communities will recover more quickly.
It’s why the President made game changing investments in infrastructure and community resilience, from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that you will hear more about today from White House Infrastructure Implementation Coordinator Mitch Landrieu, to the recently enacted Inflation Reduction Act, to increased investments in community resilience.
We are committed to making sure that the dollars we spend on infrastructure are invested with resilience as a key feature – and that it is engineered in from the beginning of the design phase. To do this, we need to make sure that new investments in clean energy and other modern infrastructure don’t create new attack surfaces and vulnerabilities, and instead result in safer and more secure systems that Americans can rely on in times of crisis.
In designing and administering programs and distributing assistance under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), my team here at the White House, in close coordination with Mitch Landrieu, are asking Federal agencies to incorporate the principles of all-hazards resilience, cybersecurity, risk reduction, and total Lifecyle resilience into their program guidance.
In an effort to build in more resilience, we also need to consider ways to address the tension between “build back fast” and Build Back Better. For example, when we restore essential services to a community in the wake of a disaster, we want to actually leave that community stronger than it was before. We’re working on that 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 this is where the NIAC can help.
We need your advice and expertise to help us navigate the evolving threat landscape and to help us best 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 universities, 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 cannot get this job done with you.
I will conclude with just one final observation. The challenges to our critical infrastructure are severe – and will be exacerbated as our adversaries become more sophisticated and climate change continues to accelerate.
But as we have seen over the past year and a half—and I have personally seen over my years in public service – from working as a twenty-six-year-old for President Biden in the Senate, to several years as Deputy Energy Secretary in the Obama Administration, to my current role as the Homeland Security Advisor, we are at our best as a Nation when we come together to do hard things. And I believe that the hardest things are the most worth working on, which is why we are here together today.
It now gives me great pleasure to introduce our Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas to say a few words and to formally swear you all in. Secretary Mayorkas, on behalf of the President, I would like to thank you and the team at CISA for your leadership and support.