Computer security could be tied to agencies’ funding

House Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., said Thursday that agencies could have their budgets cut if their information technology security does not improve.

With several agencies struggling to meet requirements of the 2002 Federal Information Security Management Act, Davis said that compliance eventually has to be tied to funding. He also said that more time is needed for agencies to fall in line with the law.

"FISMA report cards are going to have to be tied to funding," Davis said. "That's often the only way to get [the agencies'] attention."

In an annual review by the committee, seven agencies received failing grades, which is one less than in 2003. The overall grade inched up 2.5 points to a D+ for cybersecurity, up from a D in 2003.

Davis said financial penalties only would be implemented if agencies do not continue to improve. He would not specify how much the penalties would be or at what point they would be implemented.

"Even the [agencies receiving failing grades] are trying hard to get there," Davis told Government Executive. "FISMA is just a few years old. You have to give them some time."

At a committee hearing Thursday, Davis questioned chief information officers from agencies that achieved the highest cybersecurity grades -- the Agency for International Development(which earned an A+) and the Transportation Department (with an A-)-- and the lowest achiever, the Homeland Security Department, which received an F.

"All you need is one… cyber attack and everyone will be all over this," Davis said. "They are going to ask who the fall guy is, and it's not going to be me."

Steve Cooper, DHS' chief information officer, who is leaving the agency later this month, told the panel that he is hoping the department achieves a D by fiscal 2006, but does not see its score improving in the next year because of the amount of time it takes to certify and accredit all of DHS' 3,600 systems. By comparison, Cooper said, AID must certify and accredit less than 10 systems, and Transportation must secure 480 systems.

Davis told panel participant Karen Evans, the Office of Management and Budget's administrator for electronic government, that he is pleased with the efforts to standardize cybersecurity. "It's not how much money you spend, but how well you spend it," Davis said.

Evans said that agency security procedures remain deficient largely due to the complexity of securing the many systems. She said inconsistency in FISMA implementation and unnecessary duplication are areas of concern for OMB.

The budget agency is working on new FISMA guidances regarding the privacy of information collected and performance requirements, according to Evans.

"While notable progress in resolving IT security weaknesses has been made, problems continue, and new threats and vulnerabilities continue to materialize," she said.

Evans added that creating an inspector general auditing framework similar to that used for financial audits would limit information sharing and keep agencies from being flexible in how they implement their cybersecurity resources.

"FISMA is an evaluation, not an audit," Evans said. "If it turns into an audit evaluation, it is less of an exchange of information."

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