IGs: budget cuts could put cybersecurity at risk

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

Inspectors general fear that steep budget cut proposed by the Trump administration could force civilian agencies to decide between spending on program operations and cybersecurity.

The White House's budget guidance calls for a $54 billion bump in military spending that would be offset by cuts from civilian agencies.

If cuts are approved, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said at a March 9 hearing of his Appropriations subcommittee, programs would experience a "dramatic decline in services." He added that cuts would not yield "all the savings right upfront because there is a lot of cost associated with closedown."

Ranking member Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said, "The chairman and I agree; you can't balance the budget on the back on nondefense discretionary funding," adding that such cuts would inhibit "critical" activities.

A panel of agency IGs testified that those affected critical activities could include oversight, cybersecurity and IT modernization.

"One area I would really worry about … is IT security," Department of Education IG Kathleen Tighe testified. "It's been a management challenge since 2006. You can't fix that on the cheap. Money has to be put in."

In addition to the "never-ending" challenge of IT security, Tighe said that steep budget cuts would further constrain the department's employees.  

"It's fair to say that cuts to the department … will reduce staff available who are already challenged" by tight budgets and personnel shortages, she said.

Gale Stone, acting IG of the Social Security Administration, said that even before budget cuts, IT modernization already presents a "huge challenge" for government.

"Reduction would force the agency to make some very tough decisions between 'do we modernize so we can sustain our business process and service to the community in the future' or 'do we just try to make it to the next step,'" she asked.

SSA, which is charged with protecting the Social Security accounts of hundreds of millions of Americans, is in the middle of a wide-ranging IT infrastructure modernization project, including an overhaul of the agency's disability case processing system, dubbed DCPS2.

Stone also said that budget cuts would increase customer service wait times and impair the agency’s ability to make data-driven decisions.

Daniel Levinson, the IG of the Department of Health and Human Services, testified that budget cuts present "an enormous challenge for employees to be able to do their jobs," including ongoing healthcare modernization and medical center interoperability efforts.

The IGs also testified that the hiring freeze has forced them to scale back their oversight work.

DeLauro said that the impacts of the hiring freeze "can only be compounded" by further budget cuts.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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