Oversight

How cross-agency collaboration could improve tech oversight

Shutterstock image: developing a plan. 

By working across agency lines, watchdogs could improve tech, cybersecurity and financial oversight governmentwide, according to an end-of year report from the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency.

CIGIE's analysis points to six critical areas that IGs individually work on at their agencies, but with cross-agency coordination could improve governmentwide oversight. They are: bolstering cybersecurity, modernizing IT infrastructure, upholding national security, ensuring integrity and efficiency in contracting and subcontracting, enhancing oversight of grants, as well as preventing fraudulent claims and improper payments.

The common themes in the report included the need for increased data analytics and improved data quality, more information sharing, plus sustaining a skilled workforce that has sufficient resources -- both within agencies and watchdog offices.

However, challenges remain to successfully addressing CIGIE's priorities.

In the context of federal cybersecurity, gaps in the IT workforce could risk systems breaches and the ability of IGs to carry out effective audits.

"This is particularly a problem for OIGs seeking to recruit individuals with cybersecurity experience to conduct audits," the report stated. "Where IT skills are lacking, OIGs may avoid detailed technical reviews or need to rely on contractor expertise to conduct adequate oversight."

CIGIE also proposed creating a working group to help OIGs go beyond what's required in annual Federal Information Security Management Act reviews, particularly in areas involving cloud computing.

With governmentwide IT management making a repeat appearance on the Government Accountability Office's high-risk list, CIGIE proposed moving to the cloud and expanding shared services. The report cited the Modernizing Government Technology Act as a way agencies can incrementally modernize, but it noted that IGs need more information on how to effectively evaluate agencies' modernization projects.

For maintaining national security, CIGIE proposed an interagency project to examine the National Background Investigations Bureau's massive backlog of security clearance requests. The Council also emphasized the importance of making sure teams that plan to share information are working on common systems.

To help improve contracting oversight, CIGIE proposed legislative changes to clarify that OIGs do have access to contractors' records as well as statutory changes that would provide OIGs with subpoena power to compel witness testimony extending to contractors and former federal employees.

To help promote cybersecurity collaboration across IG offices, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) has suggested establishing single cyber IG who would have the authority to probe federal networks for weaknesses. One overarching solution to collaboration challenges CIGIE proposed for Congress is to provide the IG community with a direct appropriation.

"Direct funding would enable CIGIE to hire the necessary personnel to undertake important activities including encouraging deeper coordination and stronger collaboration between all OIGs," the report stated.

Specifically, CIGIE made the case that direct funding would help resolve cross-jurisdictional disputes, improve planning, clarify leadership in a cross-agency investigation, create communities of interest and lead to more accurate upfront cost estimates and benefits of IG projects.

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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