GAO: Financial information at risk

Gene Dodaro, the General Accounting Office's assistant comptroller general, told members of Congress last week that computer security could be compromised as agencies work to fix their Year 2000 problem, leaving critical financial information vulnerable to cyberattacks.

Dodaro, testifying before the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology, high-lighted "computer-control weaknesses" as a particular threat to the integrity of financial information— information that in many cases is already plagued by missing data and multibillion-dollar accounting discrepancies.

He said computer-control weaknesses could intensify if agencies neglect computer security while working to fix their systems' Year 2000 problem. "This is a very serious problem— unauthorized access to data," he said. "This [potentially] subjects...federal transactions to being manipulated."

The potential for financial information being hacked is of particular concern in the wake of a GAO audit of the first-ever federal consolidated financial statement. The audit revealed that agencies were unable to generate accurate financial statements and that deficiencies in information technology were partly to blame.

"The majority of federal agencies' financial management systems are not designed to meet current accounting standards and systems requirements and cannot provide reliable financial information for managing government operations and holding managers accountable," Dodaro testified.

Edward DeSeve, the acting deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, told the subcommittee that information technology will be key to improving the accuracy of agencies' financial information.

Frank Sullivan, deputy assistant secretary for financial management at the Department of Veterans Affairs, said the audit should be viewed as a "baseline" that can show how the government improves its financial management over the years.

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