VA is slow to upgrade tech security, GAO says

The Veterans Affairs Department has not yet fully implemented information security upgrades that auditors recommended after a massive data breach last year, according to a report released Wednesday.

The Government Accountability Office said the department is moving slowly to address the data security weaknesses exposed by an incident that compromised the personal information of roughly 26.5 million veterans. GAO found that the department has not fulfilled 20 of the 22 recommendations it issued along with the VA's inspector general last year about how the data system can be strengthened.

"Because these recommendations have not yet been implemented, unnecessary risk exists that the personal information of veterans and others, such as medical providers, will be exposed to data, tampering, fraud and inappropriate disclosure," the new GAO report said.

The breach occurred when a computer drive containing sensitive data was stolen from the home of a department tech specialist. It was the largest data breach in U.S. government history.

According to GAO, the only two of its recommendations the department has implemented in response to the breach involve regular reporting about the development of the VA's security plan and developing a process for managing an action plan.

When asked Wednesday by Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, about whether the department is on track in its mission to become the federal government's "gold standard" in data security, VA Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology Robert Howard said he does not know.

"It's a difficult question," he said at a hearing on the department's overall IT efforts.

Howard said the department has made significant progress in certain areas, particularly with enhancing its system for identifying and reporting security gaps. He insisted that 2008 will be an important year because the department will be implementing several key contracts.

Lawmakers at the hearing also tried to gauge the department's progress toward centralizing its IT system and enhancing its e-health capabilities.

VA Secretary Jim Nicholson approved a new organization structure for the department earlier this year. Part of that effort involves transferring 6,000 employees to its technology office. The department's delivery of health care is a key part of the realignment plan.

Nicholson told House lawmakers on Tuesday that the department is struggling to deal with backlogs in claims for veterans of the Iraq war. A recent audit completed by the department's inspector general also identified gaps in its e-health system that affected patient data and led to long wait times for appointments.

Howard acknowledged the department's struggles to upgrade its e-health system. But he said the pressure Congress is putting on both the Defense and VA departments is helping the process.

Akaka said the accuracy of the information in the VA system is imperative and Congress will not be able to effectively direct resources to the department if it cannot rely on the data the department provides.

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:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    View
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    View
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    View
  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

    View
  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

    View
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    View
  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.

    View

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