July 2008

Capitol Hill visits reinforce automation issues

Suppose a terrorist hacked into computers at a municipal water supply and changed the formula for chlorine, killing thousands of people? Cyber security is a huge issue, especially when it comes to critical infrastructure protection. And cyber security was just one of three major automation issues the Automation Federation (AF) and select members discussed during their latest Capitol Hill visit this spring. The prospects of ignoring these issues are scary. In fact, one government official said, "It's scary that you haven't been a resource to us yet."

AF brought five teams to Capitol Hill to discuss the future of the automation profession and talk to Congress, not only about the need for an informed cyber security policy to defend the nation's industrial infrastructure, but also on workforce development and the impending engineering shortage in automation, as well as the need to create a two-year and four-year automation engineering curricula. Along with providing an overview of the issues, AF members requested support from Congress and offered them help regarding future issues that may impact the automation profession.

With 29 successful meetings and one impromptu cyber security briefing, AF departed Capitol Hill and Washington D.C., full of enthusiasm and one step closer to establishing itself as the "Voice of Automation" with members of Congress, federal agencies, and the Executive Branch. In addition, teams met with representatives from the U.S. Department of Labor and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership to continue the collaborative relationship forged with the agencies in 2007.

The timing of the visit was perfect in Rhode Island, where Congressman Jim Langevin had just introduced the Homeland Security Network Defense and Accountability Act of 2008 (H.R. 5983), a bill designed to improve the cyber security posture of the Department of Homeland Security. The Federation's message and his initiatives were very closely related, which allowed staff members to spend over an hour with the AF team. Staffers were especially interested in ISA99 and the interaction between ISA and the North American Electric Reliability Council and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The team discussed additional costs associated with individual sector security plans and how to create synergies through coordinating efforts based on common fundamentals and principles of control systems. Langevin's staff members identified points of contact to make in other federal agencies and offered to take the lead in introducing the Federation to those people.

As a result of efforts on the workforce development side, Congressman Todd Akin's (R-MO) Legislative Assistant offered to officially support AF in its workforce development efforts. In Senator Lugar's (R-IN) office, discussions centered around opportunities to develop a test pilot program teaching an automation curriculum in a local Indiana high school as well a local community college.

What does this all mean for AF members? "It ultimately means the Federation is building its presence as the voice of automation with members of Congress," said Mike Marlowe, director of government relations for AF. The discussions will build an "avenue for our members to have issues of importance to them brought to the attention of members of Congress, whether it's cyber security or developing the next generation of automation professionals." Members of the Senate "are excited about an organization that's coming forth to give them important information they need so they're better informed about automation and manufacturing issues," he said.