DOT faces new security challenges in 2007

Risk analyst says process improvements could lapse if Congress relaxes oversight

Audit of DOT's Information Security Program (PDF)

Related Links

The Transportation Department must do more to secure its air traffic control system while protecting other information technology systems as the department consolidates its IT operations, according to the latest DOT inspector general’s report. A risk analyst familiar with the report, however, said the IG’s findings are positive because they show that DOT has improved its procedures for identifying security vulnerabilities.

DOT’s implementation of the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002 is maturing, said Paul Proctor, research vice president of the security and risk group at Gartner. IG officials are evaluating the right criteria, and federal information systems security is improving, he said.

DOT’s IG officials are focusing their reviews on the process of risk management, which means they are looking at the procedure that IT managers use for assessing IT security on an ongoing basis, Proctor said. “This is a substantial step ahead from what they might have done before,” which was mainly patch management and penetration testing. “The fact that they are making any improvement is impressive” because information security is such a complicated matter, he added.

But Proctor said lawmakers must pressure DOT to continue improving its IT security program.

“If Congress lets go, DOT will slide back,” he said. “The moment they say [DOT has] done enough is the moment DOT will go spend money on other things.”

Todd Zinser, DOT’s former acting IG, wrote that fiscal 2007 will be a particularly challenging year for DOT in managing its IT security and investments. The agency will relocate all DOT divisions except the Federal Aviation Administration and the Surface Transportation Board to a new campus in southeast Washington, D.C. During the transfer, 75 information systems will move.

As part of the transition, DOT centralized each division’s IT infrastructures including e-mail, desktop computing and local-area networks, into a common operating environment. According to the IG, that consolidation will enhance efficiency but also create new complications because any disruption could potentially affect multiple divisions instead of only one.

The schedule for implementing and testing this new infrastructure is still evolving because of move-related problems, the report states.

Separately, DOT will maintain the air traffic control system, which President Bush designated a national critical infrastructure. The IG criticized the department for not delivering on previous promises to fix weaknesses in the air traffic control system’s infrastructure. For several years, the FAA has promised to review vulnerabilities on all operational systems and develop contingency plans for restoring essential air services in case of an outage.

Although a system failure would not cause planes to collide in the air, a prolonged outage could bring business travel and tourism to a halt, Proctor said.

The IG noted progress in the areas of tracking, prioritizing and correcting security weaknesses, which were major IG concerns last year. DOT also improved management of its IT investments by granting more spending authority to the department’s Investment Review Board.

DOT’s Office of the Chief Information Officer reviewed a draft of the IG report and orally concurred with the findings and recommendations, according to the final report.

DOT officials said last week that the department is drafting work plans and outlining resource requirements to make additional improvements to secure the national air traffic control system. DOT expects to provide the IG with a written response to the report by Nov. 22.
Lawmakers review IG report

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Aviation Subcommittee, is still reviewing the latest report from the Transportation Department inspector general on DOT’s information security program, Mica spokesman Jim Coon said.

“I do not anticipate a hearing as we have limited time remaining in this session of Congress,” Coon said. “Obviously, it is important that our air traffic control system is secure, and I feel confident that Congress will work with the FAA on this issue.”

Republican Senate sources said they are waiting until DOT comments before responding to issues that the IG raises in the report.

FCW in Print

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


  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, 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.

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