OMB accused of withholding computer security info from Congress

The Office of Management and Budget does not plan to provide detailed information to Congress on agencies' current plans to improve computer security, which could delay budget deliberations on security efforts for another year, according to the General Accounting Office.

The 2000 Government Information Security Reform Act (GISRA) directed agencies to conduct regular reviews of their security and information practices. The law required agencies to submit the first round of their security plans to OMB by September 2001, and to have programs to improve security in place by October 2002.

OMB reported to Congress in February on how well agencies' were complying with the law, praising them for some improvements, but also identifying several weaknesses. Limited resources, poor accountability and a lack of attention to computer security issues from senior management continue to hamper agencies' efforts, OMB concluded.

But OMB did not provide Congress with specific information on agencies' current plans to fix security problems, according to a May 2 letter from Robert Dacey, director of information security issues at GAO, to members of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Efficiency, Financial Management and Intergovernmental Relations.

Without such information, Congress does not have a clear picture of how well agencies' current improvement plans are working and cannot properly allocate money for computer security initiatives, Dacey said.

"Regarding OMB's position on providing information on agencies' corrective action plans to the Congress, we believe that the lack of such important information for this year's plans would delay Congress' consideration of agencies' corrective actions in its oversight and budget deliberations for federal information security for another year," Dacey said.

Although Congress has an important oversight role to play in evaluating agency plans to correct information security problems, OMB must protect the confidentiality of "predecisional" information contained in those plans, OMB Director Mitch Daniels told GAO.

Dacey said OMB is working on a way to provide Congress with the necessary information on agency plans in next year's GISRA reports. "We will continue to work with OMB in an effort to find workable solutions to obtain this important information from these first-year plans, as well as from future agency corrective action plans."

Congress is now considering legislation that would permanently reauthorize GISRA. The law expires in November 2002.

President Bush has requested $4.2 billion for information security funding in fiscal 2003, which makes congressional oversight on future spending for such programs "important to ensuring that agencies are not using the funds they receive to continue ad hoc, piecemeal security fixes that are not supported by a strong agency risk management processes," Dacey said in March at hearing before the House Subcommittee on Government Efficiency, Financial Management and Intergovernmental Relations.

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