Administration will review FISMA metrics

The Office of Management and Budget has said it will review the security metrics agencies use to report their compliance with the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) and it may develop new metrics to improve the assurance of information security at agencies.

In general, reports from agencies’ chief information officers and inspectors general during fiscal 2008 showed increased compliance with FISMA’s information security requirements, according to the a report from OMB to Congress on agencies’ FISMA implementation released recently. However, OMB also said “it could be time to modify the metrics to improve the assurance of security.”

“One goal for new metrics would be to move beyond periodic compliance reporting to more continuous monitoring of security,” the report said.

Federal agencies spent $6.2 billion on securing information technology systems in fiscal 2008, or about 9.2 percent of the approximately  $68 billion spent on IT, OMB said.

OMB's report also said in fiscal 2008, most of the 25 major federal agencies and departments “made incremental progress” in closing IT security performance gaps against the established performance criteria.

The report is based on annual reviews of agencies’ information security programs by CIOs, IGs and agency program officials. OMB said agencies should try to get 100 percent of their operational systems certified and accredited, properly identify and provide oversight of contractor systems, and maintain privacy notices for 100 percent of all applicable systems.

OMB said in fiscal 2008, the 25 major agencies:

  • Reported a total of 10,679 systems, compared with 10,304 in fiscal 2007.
  • Saw the number of systems run by the federal government decrease by 181, while the number of systems run by contractors or organizations for the government rose by 556 since fiscal 2007.
  • Categorized fewer systems as “high risk,” but more as “moderate risk."
  • Had 96 percent of the systems certified and accredited, up from 92 percent in fiscal 2007.
  • Completed annual tests for contingency plans for 92 percent of systems, versus 86 percent in fiscal 2007.
  • Completed annual tests for security controls for 93 percent of systems, down from 95 percent in fiscal 2007.
  • Reported that 89 percent of employees received security awareness training, but OMB said training for employees with significant information security responsibilities decreased to 76 percent.

  • Improved their compliance with requirements to publish privacy-related notices for some systems.
FISMA's critics have argued that agencies' compliance with the law can be more of a paperwork exercise than providing effective cybersecurity. Last year, legislation was proposed that would have amended FISMA by requiring an annual independent audit rather than an annual evaluation, increasing the responsibilities of chief information security officers, mandating governmentwide contract language and requiring operational evaluations.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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