Horn to grade agencies' security practices

The lawmaker who, with his periodic report cards, shamed federal agencies into taking steps to rid their most critical computer systems of the Year 2000 computer bug plans to shed the same light on the government's computer security practices.

Rep. Stephen Horn, R-Calif., chairman of the House Government Reform Committee's Government Management, Information and Technology Subcommittee, plans to issue a report card next month grading the security of federal government computer systems.

"The goal is the same as with Y2K, to draw attention to the problems and to put it in as simplified manner as we can to urge agencies to make computer security a high priority," said Bonnie Heald, spokeswoman for Horn's subcommittee, which will release the report card the second week of September and likely will hold a related hearing on the issue.

She said it "became apparent" while Horn was working with federal agencies on the Y2K computer problem that computer security is a widespread problem. Horn gained much attention for helping to prod federal agencies into fixing the Y2K computer bug by issuing regular report cards that showed their progress in dealing with the problem.

On the issue of computer security, Horn sent questionnaires to 54 agencies earlier this month asking for information on six areas of concern. They include service continuity, segregation of duties, systems software, application development and change control, access control, and the extent to which an agency has entity-wide security programs.

Horn's subcommittee also plans to hold a hearing next month on legislation that would create a chief information officer to oversee government computer security and to help set the administration's information technology management policy. Rep. Jim Turner of Texas, the top Democrat on Horn's subcommittee, and Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., a member of the Government Reform Committee, each have sponsored such legislation, H.R. 4670 and H.R. 5024 respectively.

Bruce Heiman, executive director of Americans for Computer Privacy, praised Horn's efforts. "We testified before Congress that one of the most important things government can do is to lead by example and get its own house in order," he said. "If Rep. Horn's actions will help, we support them."

Douglas Sabo, vice president of information security programs at the Information Technology Association of America, said in addition to raising awareness, Congress also needs to provide the resources for federal agencies to take the necessary steps to protect their computer systems. He expressed concern about the amount of proposed funding lawmakers have included in the fiscal 2001 spending bills for such programs.

Sabo said Congress needs to "put its money where its mouth is" on the issue.

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