HealthCare.gov

Issa takes aim at federal security protocols

Rep. Darrell Issa

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa says subpoenaed documents prove the HealthCare.gov website had serious potential security risks when it launched Oct. 1.

California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa continued his probe into possible security failures accompanying the flawed Oct. 1 launch of HealthCare.gov – this time behind the closed doors of a hearing held in executive session to prevent potentially sensitive documents from being released to the public.

The Jan. 28 hearing was a departure from the recent practice of Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which Issa chairs. As part of an ongoing probe, the panel has subpoenaed security records from private contractors connected to the project and published selections of them online, as part of an effort to document the concerns expressed by private contractors and security experts inside the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that HealthCare.gov launched with serious potential security risks.

"Documents obtained by this committee by subpoena ... show that security officials at CMS had recommended that this site be delayed, not launched, or launched only in part," Issa said in an opening statement, before a vote to close the hearing to the public.

The Department of Health and Human Services and the non-profit Mitre Corporation, which conducts cybersecurity research on behalf of the federal government, have expressed concern about airing the contents of the HealthCare.gov security documents in open session, noted ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) "Some of the security testing documents we have obtained contain highly sensitive information, and could provide a road map for hackers and others seeking to do us harm," Cummings said.

Kevin Charest, chief information security officer at HHS, and Milton Shlomo, principle information systems engineer at Mitre, testified at the closed hearing. In a public hearing of the same committee on Jan. 16, Charest told lawmakers, "to date, there have been no successful security attacks on HealthCare.gov, and no person or group has maliciously accessed personally-identifiable information from the site."

In his opening remarks on Tuesday, Issa took aim at the current practice, under the Federal Information Security Management Act, of relying on the judgment of high-ranking executive branch officials to launch IT systems.

"Under current law, it is possible to launch a site by simply saying that an executive within the administration of the right level has the ability to accept the risk," Issa said. Such a practice is "almost the assurance that the American people's personal identifiable information will be compromised. There is no protection against a judgment call that the risk of billions of dollars, trillions of dollars, the entire economy can in fact be waived by an administration official. Meaning, there is no standard other than the acceptance of risk," Issa said.

Agencies are required to issue an authority to operate  declaration to launch an IT product like a public-facing website. An ATO documents potential risks to agency operations, according to classifications spelled out by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Issa has pressed the argument that the decision to grant an ATO to HealthCare.gov by CMS administrator Marilyn Tavenner had more to do with the politics of hitting the advertised launch date than with the operational security of the components of HealthCare.gov.

"It is the committee's intent to err on the side of the assumption that the administration continues to lie about the site being safe and secure. We can find no other basis but to assume that they were lying about the vulnerabilities on the day they went live on Oct. 1, and that they are still lying," Issa said.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy, health IT and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mr. Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian started his career as an arts reporter and critic, and has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, Architect magazine, and other publications. He was an editorial assistant and staff writer at the now-defunct New York Press and arts editor at the About.com online network in the 1990s, and was a weekly contributor of music and film reviews to the Washington Times from 2007 to 2014.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


The Fed 100

Save the date for 28th annual Federal 100 Awards Gala.

Featured

  • computer network

    How Einstein changes the way government does business

    The Department of Commerce is revising its confidentiality agreement for statistical data survey respondents to reflect the fact that the Department of Homeland Security could see some of that data if it is captured by the Einstein system.

  • Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Army photo by Monica King. Jan. 26, 2017.

    Mattis mulls consolidation in IT, cyber

    In a Feb. 17 memo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told senior leadership to establish teams to look for duplication across the armed services in business operations, including in IT and cybersecurity.

  • Image from Shutterstock.com

    DHS vague on rules for election aid, say states

    State election officials had more questions than answers after a Department of Homeland Security presentation on the designation of election systems as critical U.S. infrastructure.

  • Org Chart Stock Art - Shutterstock

    How the hiring freeze targets millennials

    The government desperately needs younger talent to replace an aging workforce, and experts say that a freeze on hiring doesn't help.

  • Shutterstock image: healthcare digital interface.

    VA moves ahead with homegrown scheduling IT

    The Department of Veterans Affairs will test an internally developed scheduling module at primary care sites nationwide to see if it's ready to service the entire agency.

  • Shutterstock images (honglouwawa & 0beron): Bitcoin image overlay replaced with a dollar sign on a hardware circuit.

    MGT Act poised for a comeback

    After missing in the last Congress, drafters of a bill to encourage cloud adoption are looking for a new plan.

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