D+ for fed security

Federal agencies made significant improvements in certifying and accrediting systems, annual testing, and security training, but the overall grade for their 2004 federal security report card still has a long way to go, says chairman of the House Government Reform Committee.

"The good news is, the grade for government agencies overall rose 2.5 points last year," Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), committee chair, said today at a press conference announcing the grades. "The bad news is, the overall grade is a D-plus."

The Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002 requires an annual independent evaluation of agency information security practices, usually performed by the inspector general. The agency and inspector general reports are submitted to Congress and the Office of Management and Budget and used to compile the annual scorecards, which help Congress assess the government's security progress.

Davis noted that some of the improvements were the result of Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.) placing greater emphasis on evaluating the agencies' systems inventories, which most agencies have completed. Putnam was the head of the Government Reform Committee's Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the Census Subcommittee until January, when he moved to another committee.

Despite the advances made by agencies, Davis said, some areas still need to get better: annual review of contractor systems, testing of contingency plans, configuration management, incident reporting, and specialized training for employees with significant security responsibilities.

"Several agencies continue to receive failing grades, and that's unacceptable," Davis said. He noted that the committee will continue to explore the reasons for agencies underperforming.

On the good news front, there have been some exceptional turnarounds, Davis said, such as the Transportation Department, which received an A-minus, a significant improvement over the D-plus received for 2003. Transportation made significant improvements in the area of certification and accreditation, Davis noted.

Transportation officials relied on executive leadership, teamwork among different departments throughout the agency and the establishment of a departmentwide methodology to evaluate security practices, said Dan Matthews, CIO for Transportation.

Other agencies that deserve commendation may not have received As, Davis said, such as the State Department, which improved to a D-plus after receiving an F in 2003. "I think it's important to acknowledge their accomplishments this year; they (State) earned a 30-point gain in their score, and are only a half point away from a C," Davis said.

Bruce Morrison, CIO for State, noted that former Secretary of State Colin Powell took information security seriously and as a result devoted resources to carry out FISMA's objectives.

"We still have a long ways to go but we came a great distance," Morrison said. Since agency officials submitted their security report on Jan. 31, State has now achieved 100 percent certification of the agency's systems, Morrison said.

The departments of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Energy, and Housing and Urban Development and Homeland Security continued to receive failing scores.

And the Defense Department showed little improvement, scoring a D, the same grade it posted for 2003. However, the inspectors general for Pentagon agencies did not provide independent evaluations of their agencies' FISMA reports for fiscal 2003, so these scores are based on self-reported numbers submitted by these agencies.

Davis noted that many inspectors general do an excellent job of completing FISMA annual independent audits, but sometimes the process is hampered when they submit incomplete reports or fail to submit any at all. "There are still too many agencies being graded on the basis of incomplete IG submissions, or without any IG input at all," he said.

Also at the news conference, Telos Corp., a provider of government-validated, secure solutions, announced the results of its first Federal Computer Security Report Card Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) study. Federal CISO surveyed gave the Federal Computer Security Report Card a C grade. They note that the Report Card successfully focuses attention on federal computer security, but there is significant room to improve evaluation criteria and establish a more linear connection to agency funding.

"I realize that the FISMA process is not a perfect one," Davis said. What it provides agencies is a strong management framework, he said. "There may be a need for amendments to facilitate implementation of the security concepts that drive FISMA, he said.

"We look to the CIOs and CISOs to help improve the process," said Davis, who announced the creation of the CISO Exchange, a public-private initiative focused on empowering federal CISOs to improve security.


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