Buzz of the Week: Security on the mind

Here is a quick review of some of the bigger stories last week that did not involve the failure or takeover of major financial institutions.

  • Democrats and some security experts say the Bush administration should reveal more details about its eight-month-old National Comprehensive Cybersecurity Initiative.

  • Government auditors and some independent experts say the White House, not the Homeland Security Department, should direct the federal government’s cybersecurity efforts.

  • A Senate committee passed a revised version of the Federal Information Security Management Act that would give chief information security officers more authority to enforce FISMA compliance. The committee added that FISMA needs to be strengthened.

  • The Senate approved the 2008 Defense Authorization bill, which would require the Defense Department to impose a 1 percent tax on critical security programs, setting aside the money to buy or develop advanced security solutions.

When it comes to security, the federal government clearly has gotten religion. That is not to say that everyone agrees on what needs to be done or how, but at least everyone recognizes that stronger measures and new ideas are needed.

As might be expected, with everyone looking to jump on the issue, debates about security have become increasingly politicized. The Senate Armed Services Committee introduced the amendment imposing the tax on security programs because, according to its report, the Office of Management and Budget resisted including such a line item in budget requests.

Meanwhile, Democrats are attacking the Bush administration’s cybersecurity initiative as just another example of its penchant for secrecy. But the Democrats have the support of some industry experts, who are concerned about the administration’s lack of trust in the private sector on security matters.

Don’t look for many neat and tidy resolutions before Congress adjourns for the year and the Bush administration goes into the history books.


#2: What’s that number again?
NASA has six networks. Or 28. Or some number in between. Nobody’s sure, and NASA Chief Information Officer Linda Cureton discussed the problem last week at an Input breakfast.

Tracking the number of networks is difficult because different groups within NASA define network differently. In addition, employees sometime create networks without notifying anybody outside of those using them.

But NASA should be used to dealing with uncertain numbers. After all, they spent years planning explorations of nine planets, and then woke up one morning to find there were only eight. 

#3: Can I get a buyer?
The Homeland Security Department doesn’t have enough people to buy what it needs, according to a member of Congress. Rep. Chris Carney (D-Pa.) said DHS has neglected the acquisition workforce since it was created in 2003.

Richard Gunderson, deputy chief procurement officer at DHS, said the situation is getting better. In fiscal 2004, the department’s Office of the Chief Procurement Officer had four employees while the entire department had 603 contracting officers. By the end of fiscal 2005, that office had 30 staff members handling policy and oversight. DHS now has more than 1,000 contract specialists, he said.

Nevertheless, he lamented the dearth of good contracting officers. If you’ve ever persuaded a car salesman to knock $2,000 off the price of a new Honda Accord, you might be qualified.

#4: Do fence us in
Speaking of the Homeland Security Department, DHS has had its troubles with its SBInet program and had to suspend work on a virtual fence along the U.S. border with Mexico because of problems with permits and some needed equipment testing.

Randolph Hite, director of information technology architecture and systems issues at the Government Accountability Office, told a House committee last week that DHS made the right decision and should be able to resume work in January as planned.

Meanwhile, Customs and Border Protection officials have asked to reallocate $378 million in SBInet funding for old-fashioned fences and vehicle barriers. Because illegal immigration is likely to remain a hot political issue, it’s a sure bet the next president will examine this situation closely.

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