Los Alamos National Lab improves information security

Los Alamos National Laboratory acknowledged problems involving security of classified data and has taken several steps to improve processes, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office released Monday. The laboratory, which manages numerous nuclear facilities and operations, saw a reduction in the number of reported security incidents from a five-year high of 18 in 2005 to four in 2007.

The laboratory, which is managed by a consortium of contractors called Los Alamos National Security, handles plutonium, uranium and tritium processing; research and development operations with special nuclear material, high-energy radiography; radiation measurement; packaging of nuclear materials; and radioactive and hazardous waste management. The government awarded the management contract to the consortium in June 2006, after a series of high-profile security incidents involving the possible exposure of classified information and concerns over workplace safety. The House Energy and Water Development Subcommittee asked GAO to provide an update on security, safety and management problems at the lab.

"This was not a full-blown audit," said a GAO spokesman, who requested anonymity. "The idea was to get something to the committee to address some questions, based on existing studies, or work done by the [Energy Department] inspector general."

GAO analyzed data from the lab's Office of Safeguards and Security and the Incident Tracking and Analysis Capability database - Energy's primary repository for monitoring security incidents. According to the report, 57 security incidents involving the compromise or potential compromise of classified information were reported between Oct. 1, 2002 and June 30, 2007. Of those, 37 posed the most serious threat to national security. In one example, nine classified removable electronic media items, including data disks, could not be accounted for after relocation to a different on-site facility. Energy concluded that these items were likely destroyed. In another example, a law enforcement search of a subcontractor's home in Los Alamos, N.M., recovered documents and a USB thumb drive containing classified information removed from a highly classified facility at the lab.

In addition, nine incidents involved the confirmed or suspected unauthorized disclosure of secret information, which Energy determined posed a significant threat to U.S. national security interests, and 11 incidents involved the confirmed or suspected unauthorized disclosure of confidential information, which posed threats to the department's security interests.

According to the report, lab contractors have taken a number of steps to improve information security. An estimated 1.4 million legacy classified documents were destroyed, for example, and the number of electronic classified items reduced from 87,000 to 4,472. They've also reduced the number of vaults and vault-type rooms used for holding classified data from 142 to 114, and consolidated classified material and classified processing operations into a supervault-type room.

"It's a problem they're aware of and trying to take steps to remediate long-standing issues," the GAO spokesman said.

Lab representatives could not immediately be reached for comment.

In response to the report, lab officials noted that the number of security incidents that compromised or potentially compromised classified information had declined from 18 in 2005 to five in 2006 and four in 2007. The number of reported incidents rose prior to 2005, increasing from 14 in 2003 to 16 in 2004.

"In our view, this short period of time is not sufficient to provide a basis for meaningful trend analysis," Gene Aloise, GAO's director of Natural Resources and Environment, said in the report. "Consequently, it is too soon to tell if this decline in security incidents is more than temporary."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.