DHS intel shop needs to work on privacy protection, says watchdog

Shutterstock image (by Bruce Rolff): eyes in a binary tunnel.

The DHS office responsible for collecting, analyzing and sending out information related to threats needs to do a better job protecting sensitive data in contracts, and improving the oversight of various government transparency functions, according to an audit by the agency’s Office of Inspector General.

The audit, dated May 17 and released to the public May 23, noted that the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis was improving its culture when it comes to safeguarding the privacy of personally identifiable information. This was accomplished by centralizing oversight of privacy, civil liberties and intelligence information under a single executive.

However, the intel shop hasn't prioritized institutionalizing the capabilities and processes that ensure timely and complete compliance with requirements for privacy and intelligence information.

The report said Intelligence and Analysis has not implemented an infrastructure for risk assessment and end-to-end monitoring of high-impact solicitations and contracts to ensure safeguards for sensitive data and systems throughout the acquisition processes. It has made some progress in protecting the information, said the report, but like other federal agencies, is waiting for promised guidance from the Office of Management and Budget for more details.

The OMB guidance, which the OIG notes is still in draft as of November 2015, will require that an agency's CIO, Chief Acquisition Officer, CISO, senior agency official for privacy, and other stakeholders work together to review continuously high-risk solicitations and contracts.

The office has also not responded effectively to requests under the Freedom of Information Act, the OIG said, with a backlog of more than 100 requests. The two full-time employees that handle the requests are inadequate to handle the volume, it said. Additionally, challenges in records management contributed to delays in locating pertinent records and adding to FOIA delays.

OIG recommendations included  a plan for organization-wide records management structure; a plan to improve risk assessment and end-to-end monitoring of high-impact acquisitions that involve intelligence information, privacy, and security, as well as specialized training for FOIA staff. The agency concurred with all six of the recommendations offered in the audit.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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