Security gets boost, questions

Federal PKI Steering Committee

Governmentwide security efforts got a vote of approval in the House Appropriations Committee's report on fiscal 2002 funding this week, but the committee is asking for further explanation on the wisdom of a centralized approach.

The General Services Administration oversees federal public-key infrastructure (PKI) efforts to enable secure electronic transactions within the government and with the private sector. The agency also houses the Federal Computer Incident Response Center (FedCIRC), which is the central warning and response group for civilian agencies.

Pending approval by the full House, the committee plans to give GSA the full $3.5 million for the Federal PKI Steering Committee requested by the Bush administration. The $3.5 million the steering committee received for the current fiscal year is being used primarily to develop and maintain the Federal Bridge Certification Authority, which enables agencies to accept digital certificates issued by other agencies.

Nevertheless, committee members expressed concern that the steering committee's goal of deploying commercial PKI solutions in the government could be better handled by, and funded through, individual agencies.

So within 90 days of receiving funding, the committee is calling on GSA to provide a report that:

* Explains the importance and benefits of managing this effort centrally.

* Quantifies the extent to which commercially developed PKI is already being deployed.

* Describes industry/government PKI relations, partnerships and collaborations.

The committee also provided FedCIRC with a $2 million increase over the current year's funding, bringing the center's budget up to almost $10 million. However, that is $1 million less than the amount requested by Bush, even though "the committee is supportive of the decentralized, distributed philosophy for computer incident detection and response that is inherent in the current federal effort and that appears to allow appropriate agency control and private sector involvement."

The center's current initiative includes encouraging agencies to use the managed security services offered through the GSA Safeguard security contract to pick complete intrusion-detection solutions that the agencies can use to report incidents to FedCIRC.

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