GSA systems seen needing more protection

The General Services Administration has weaknesses in how it protects the personally identifiable information in its custody, an audit has found.

The agency’s inspector general found problems in information technology systems and contracts. among other areas, according to the March 31 audit. By scanning several of GSA’s major IT systems that collect and store identifiable information, the audit revealed the need for security guides and patches to reduce risk and unauthorized access to the information through vulnerabilities, wrote Jennifer Klimes, the agency's audit manager and IT audit officer.

The systems have problems with their hardware, software and database platforms, the IG found. Auditors checked three systems: GSA’s System for Tracking and Administering Real-Property (STAR), Federal Business Opportunities, and the Carlson Wagonlit e-Travel System (CWGT). Although the public report didn’t include details, Klime wrote that one system used hardware that the manufacturer no longer supported. That system's operating system and database management system had compatibility issues, while many of the software security patches could not be installed, the IG found.

Meanwhile, officials failed to apply security patches soon after they were available, sometimes installing them nearly two years after they had been available, the audit found. Klime also found unnecessary services attached to two systems, leaving entry points for unauthorized access.

The audit also reported on problems with contracts. GSA didn’t include privacy-related clauses in its IT support contracts, which the Federal Acquisition Regulation requires. Contracts for three major IT systems included no mention of or reference to such clauses, which ensure that contractors understand the requirements for protecting data. Two of the contracts for the STARS, FedBizOpps and CWGT systems didn’t reference the clauses either, according to the audit.

Without the clauses, GSA can't be sure contractors are aware of restrictions and their responsibilities to protect the information, Klime wrote. GSA acquisition officials agreed to check for the FAR clause in a sample of major IT system contacts during fiscal 2008, the audit states.

In response, Gail Lovelace, chief human capital officer for GSA, and Casey Coleman, the agency's chief information officer, said their offices would work to protect the data, train staff members and create policies. In addition, the CIO’s office is currently evaluating tools to prevent data leaks, and the CHO’s office expects to have new training available later in the year. GSA officials also are testing two-factor authentication for remote access, according to their response to the audit.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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