Davis: No quick fixes

Mandated, one-size-fits-all approach to privacy is a step backward

Federal Computer Week's editorial "The Need for Privacy Officers" [FCW, June 27] is correct to make the connection between security and privacy. How information travels — and whom it travels to — is a significant concern for the federal government. How government balances the tension between privacy and security is a constant challenge.

I strongly believe privacy issues must be addressed. The way to ensure that privacy remains a priority for policy-makers, however, is to keep it under the domain of individual agencies' chief information officers and the Office of Management and Budget. The answer is certainly not to construct a new layer of bureaucracy in agencies, which the creation of individual chief privacy officers would do.

It is important to note that lawmakers snuck the provision for privacy officers into law in the 2005 omnibus appropriations bill without hearings, discussion or consideration of how those positions would fit with broader policy issues. The product is incoherent policy — a policy I opposed at the time and am working to overturn.

With chief privacy officers at each agency, a hodgepodge of information security policies would emerge and reinforce a stovepipe structure that I have aggressively tried to knock down. Stovepipes not only prevent agencies from sharing and managing information but also limit how effectively agencies can protect information. Lessons from recent years show the benefits of more flexible government structures and warn us to avoid inflexible hierarchies.

OMB, which focuses on governmentwide policy, and CIOs can most effectively ensure that privacy issues receive the attention they deserve. And agency inspectors general should have the latitude to do their jobs and engage those issues.

The separation of privacy and data collection responsibilities from the overall administration of federal information policy undermines the success of the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996, which created CIOs. It also fails to recognize that information security concerns are addressed through laws such as the Federal Information Security Management Act, E-Government Act and Paperwork Reduction Act.

At its core, the establishment of agency chief privacy officers is a narrowly focused, one-size-fits-all approach to an issue that needs an integrated solution.

Agencies have dramatically different missions. They serve diverse customers and constituencies, and they vary in size and budgets. Some agencies might benefit from having a privacy officer, but many others would not. Those questions should be asked and answered before we write the law.

Davis (R-Va.) is chairman of the House Government Reform Committee.

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.

Featured

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1986, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

  • Shutterstock image.

    Merged IT modernization bill punts on funding

    A House panel approved a new IT modernization bill that appears poised to pass, but key funding questions are left for appropriators.

  • General Frost

    Army wants cyber capability everywhere

    The Army's cyber director said cyber, electronic warfare and information operations must be integrated into warfighters' doctrine and training.

  • Rising Star 2013

    Meet the 2016 Rising Stars

    FCW honors 30 early-career leaders in federal IT.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group