Oversight

Census Bureau misses self-imposed deadline as it implements security fixes

Image from Shutterstock.

In early November 2015, Commerce Department CIO Steven Cooper told Congress the Census Bureau would close all 30 of its long-open Government Accountability Office actions by the end of the year.

Dec. 31 came and went, but Census has missed the target, according to the GAO monitor keeping tabs.

"The bureau did not meet its self-imposed goal," Carol Cha, GAO's director of information technology acquisition management issues, told FCW on Jan. 6.

The bureau told FCW it was working actively with GAO to address the recommendations, which stem from a January 2013 GAO report.

Cha said the status of the recommendations hadn't changed in the two months since the Nov. 3 hearing -- held jointly by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's Government Operations and Information Technology subcommittees -- in which Cooper made his pledge: 115 total recommendations, of which 66 are closed, 19 are under review and 30 are open.

Only one recommendation, advising leadership to "clearly document the Bureau's assessment of common controls for information systems before granting an authorization to operate," was made public; the rest were limited distribution.

Those security-related recommendations came two-and-a-half years before Census was hacked.

"[I]n general terms, many of them relate to strengthening weaknesses in identification and authentication (e.g., password controls, securing system accounts and access) and configuration management (e.g., patch management, outdated software)," Cha told FCW via email.

Agencies could enjoy cost savings and cybersecurity boosts, GAO emphasized in a blog post released this week, by closing open recommendations.

In a Jan. 8 statement, Census spokesman Michael Cook noted Census had responded to all 115 recommendations in April 2015 and was on track to close out everything. Of the 49 outstanding recommendations, Cook said Census had responded to 16 of them by Jan. 5, and 20 more are under review at GAO.

"Census Bureau is continuing to work with the GAO and has established a timeline to respond by the end of March [to the final 13 recommendations]," Cook said, emphasizing the slow, methodical process required to fully close GAO actions.

The pushed-back deadline on GAO's security and authorization recommendations comes at the beginning of a crucial year for the bureau, as it prepares for the 2020 enumeration of the U.S. population.

About the Author

Zach Noble is a former FCW staff writer.

Featured

  • Defense
    Soldiers from the Old Guard test the second iteration of the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) capability set during an exercise at Fort Belvoir, VA in Fall 2019. Photo by Courtney Bacon

    IVAS and the future of defense acquisition

    The Army’s Integrated Visual Augmentation System has been in the works for years, but the potentially multibillion deal could mark a paradigm shift in how the Defense Department buys and leverages technology.

  • Cybersecurity
    Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas  (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lora Ratliff)

    Mayorkas announces cyber 'sprints' on ransomware, ICS, workforce

    The Homeland Security secretary announced a series of focused efforts to address issues around ransomware, critical infrastructure and the agency's workforce that will all be launched in the coming weeks.

Stay Connected