Letters

Long live the CIO Council; Security problems at Interior.

Long live the CIO Council
Regarding FCW.com’s story “Bush rescinds order that created CIO Council,” published May 16, we read with interest Federal Computer Week’s coverage of President Bush’s continued efforts to improve federal information technology efforts and the administration’s recent revisions to the executive order governing IT coordination initiatives.

The revocation of Executive Order 13011, which created the CIO Council, does not and could not result in it being disbanded because its existence was codified into law by Congress in the E-Government Act of 2002.

As part of the regular legal and interagency review of such measures, the executive order was therefore determined to be unnecessary and redundant and was recommended for removal.

This context would have been helpful to more fully inform your readers because your article cites a source alleging that this change could allow the administration to “eliminate the CIO Council.” Given that the council is written into law, only an act of Congress signed by the president could enact such a change.

The administration, however, has no such intention. The council has proven to be a very productive tool for coordinating the implementation and improvements to IT systems and exchanging best practices.

Contrary to the sentiment of your story, the revocation of Executive Order 13011 is not an indicator of the council’s demise. It is evidence of the council’s embrace by the administration and Congress as well as the success of the administration’s e-government initiative and IT policy that the council has helped implement.

The council’s future is no longer rooted in an executive order that can be undone by subsequent administrations.

For the past four years, the council has enjoyed the statutory protection of law that will allow it to continue delivering real results to the American people for years to come.

Karen Evans,
Administrator of E-government and Information Technology,
Office of Management and Budget, and Director, CIO Council
David Wennergren,
CIO, Navy Department, and Vice Chairman, CIO Council

Security problems at Interior
Regarding Joel Hurford’s comment piece, “Hurford: Failing at FISMA,” in Federal Computer Week’s May 8 issue, the former chief information security officer at the Interior Department still misapprehends the most basic law and federal guidance regarding information technology security, and in the process, he has trivialized the serious computer security issues that Interior faces.

The long-running Cobell v. Norton lawsuit (now Cobell v. Scarlett) is, at its heart, about the federal government’s inability to properly account for its management of other people’s land and money.

In this case the land and money belong to the individual Indian trust beneficiaries. Because the government manages other people’s land and money, the standard of care is necessarily higher. In the context of IT security, this means the government must secure American Indians’ trust data to a greater degree than it might secure the National Park Service’s reservation programs.

The Court of Appeals in this case has held: “The federal government has charged itself with moral obligations of the highest responsibility and trust in its relationships with Indians, and its conduct should therefore be judged by the most exacting fiduciary standards.”

The hearing referenced by Hurford was commenced as the result of an instruction from the Court of Appeals to assess the security of Interior’s IT systems.

During the course of 59 days, the district court compiled a massive record and concluded that: “Interior’s IT security program remains to this day…a disorganized and broken management structure that is not in compliance with governing statutes and regulations, Interior’s fiduciary duties to individual Indian trust beneficiaries, or even the department’s own IT policies.”

Indeed, the inspector general’s contractors were able to hack into Interior’s trust systems and remained there undetected for weeks and sometimes months, ultimately concluding that they could have “easily compromised the confidentiality, integrity and availability of the identified Indian trust data residing on those systems.”

Hurford now claims, without citing any evidence, that the computer security report card is not accurate and that it is not “evidence of organizational failure and a preponderance of individual risk.”

Hurford is simply not believable.

That is not to say that the report card is the only indication that Interior is unable to secure its IT systems. To the contrary, the district court took overwhelming evidence during the hearing to support its finding.

Geoffrey Rempel

Editor’s note: Rempel is an accountant with the Cobell litigation team. He attended every day of the 59-day court hearing into the Interior Department’s computer security problems.

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