VA defends its IT recovery plans
As lawmakers question VA’s slowness to act, officials say they have a sound security plan
The Veterans Affairs Department has rejected a piecemeal approach to fixing its information technology security vulnerabilities, and, because of that, VA has moved slower than oversight officials want, said Robert Howard, VAs chief information officer.
You obviously have to get it done right away, but you need to think it through, Howard said. You need to properly test it.
VA has begun implementing a comprehensive plan that includes awarding new contracts for security solutions, such as computer port monitoring, Howard said.
VA has been under fire for data security gaps since a 2006 breach exposed the sensitive data of millions of veterans. Lawmakers, the Government Accountability Office and VAs Office of Inspector General have criticized the agencys executives for their slow response to protecting sensitive data.
VA is implementing a comprehensive IT security plan at the same time it is reorganizing and centralizing its IT offices, Howard said. The IT reorganization, which should be completed in July 2008, will let VA apply uniform security policies, he said.
VA also is acquiring technology to reinforce its IT security policies and procedures, but it isnt going to buy products piecemeal, said Charles De Sanno, associate deputy assistant secretary of infrastructure engineering in VAs CIO office. De Sanno is also executive director of VAs enterprise infrastructure engineering and northeast operations in New York.
Earlier this year, VA began evaluating product capability and interoperability in its New York region and testing products in the field.
Were trying to get it right, De Sanno said. Were trying to have this ecosystem of products to secure the environment.
De Sanno said he anticipates that VA will request proposals later this month or in early November for a data-protection contract, and it will make an award in early 2008. With that acquisition, he said, VA expects to begin enforcing policies such as whether to automatically allow large file transfers or request senders electronic signatures before authorizing access to certain data.
When VA shared its plans with lawmakers at a recent hearing, they expressed impatience with VAs progress. One lawmaker, however, said IT security and centralization are complicated and cannot be completed overnight. I am heartened by many of the steps the VA has undertaken but remain concerned that more should and could be done faster, said Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
GAO officials said they have concerns about the slow pace of VAs security improvements. VA has implemented only four of GAOs 26 data security recommendations, said Valerie Melvin, director of human capital and management information systems issues at GAO.