Report cites some gaps in Defense payroll security

The Defense Department can provide "reasonable, but not absolute assurances" that information in its civilian payroll system is secure, according to a recent audit report.

The report by the Defense inspector general noted that because the civilian payroll systems are moving to different facilities as part of the Base Realignment and Closure process, some security lapses might be expected. But the processing centers could do more to increase the physical security of data in the Defense Civilian Pay System and to perform appropriate security checks, the auditors said.

The pay system covers 5.9 million military and civilian personnel in the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments.

"We noted during an observation of the document storage warehouse, that one of the cipher-locked doors was propped open," the report said, describing a visit to the processing facility in Pensacola, Fla., that handled the civilian payroll for Veterans Affairs employees until May of this year. "We noted electronic records, such as CDs, are stored in the locked Pensacola Payroll Office; however, [they] are not required to be locked in a cabinet."

In Indianapolis, which took over VA pay processing for Pensacola, "visitors with a valid Common Access Card, law enforcement badge or military identification can enter the [Defense Finance Accounting Service] building, and are not required to sign in and out with security," the auditors stated.

The report also noted that in Indianapolis, "terminal rooms are not located in physically secured locations within locked rooms, and data entry terminals are connected to the system 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The terminals are located in shared spaces with other agencies and nonpayroll office personnel, increasing the risk of unauthorized access to sensitive payroll information."

The report found that pay facilities frequently made errors in filling out the System Authorization Access Request forms required to use the payroll system and the Personnel Interface Invalid Reports issued when data is rejected or records are suspended.

Almost a quarter of the authorization access forms the inspectors examined lacked required signatures from security managers. At the Pensacola office, when inspectors asked to examine 45 invalid report forms, 16 could not be located.

DFAS managers told the inspectors that those errors were administrative rather than systematic, and were not indicative of an overall security failure at processing facilities.

The report seemed to concur that the issues identified were more a matter of compliance than of weak procedures. "The controls . . . were suitably designed to achieve the control objectives . . . if those controls were complied with satisfactorily, and user organizations applied those aspects of internal controls contemplated in the design of the controls," the report stated.

The inspectors said they would present their recommendations in a later report. A spokesman at the Indiana facility did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon on whether the facility would adopt new security procedures.

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