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Dept. of State hiring freeze increasing cyber risk, report says

An extended hiring freeze at the Department of State delayed key cybersecurity initiatives and placed highly classified information at risk according to a watchdog report.

The State Department elected to extend the governmentwide civilian hiring freeze, launched at the start of the Trump Administration for more than a year after the White House announced its end in April, 2017. According to a new report from the State Department Office of Inspector General, the freeze not only had a highly debilitating effect on employee morale but also put the agency's IT systems – including classified systems – at increased risk

The Bureau of Information Resource Management told the IG that the hiring freeze led to the delay of information assurance reviews, delayed the launch of an encryption initiative and pushed back the start date of planned identity management system by 18 months.

The report states that IRM was unable to fill two senior cybersecurity positions with Senior Executive Service members, delaying the launch of an enterprise risk management program covering IT systems.

The impact wasn't limited to IRM. The Bureau of Diplomatic Security reported that the hiring freeze limited its ability to respond to "malicious cyber activity targeting department personnel and information assets." Additionally, penetration testing of State Department networks was delayed as we a program to integrate cybersecurity into network support.

Two departments that were not named in the report also reported serious problems relating to the freeze. One department was unable to hire an Information Systems Security Officer for the entire 17 months of the freeze. Another department with TS/SCI systems reported that "that extended vacancies in its information security positions placed at risk highly classified information."

Tech security at State has seen more than its share of problems over the years. The agency's Consular Consolidated Database, which holds hundreds of millions of passport and visa records, has been alleged to have security flaws in the past. In November 2014, the department shut down its non-classified email system in an effort to root out hackers and it's possible penetration continued for months afterward.

According to an OIG survey, 56.75% of IRM employees characterized the hiring freeze as having a very negative or somewhat negative impact on operations. No one said the freeze had a positive impact. For overall operations, 94.6% of respondents said the freeze had a negative impact on operations and 0% had a positive response.

The hiring freeze continued to take a toll long after being lifted in May 2018, according to the report. The Bureau of Human Resources estimated in December 2018 that it would be two years before civil service vacancies arising from the freeze would be filled.

Reader comments

Tue, Aug 27, 2019

Why OPM, congress and senate ignore the main problem is the management idiots who are either political appointments, those hired with little experience at the expense of the long term employees who are ignored or not offered the opportunity to take on management roles who world perform much better. These management minions destroy the careers of other dedicated civil servants, some hang on, others retire or resign. Time to clean the filth and garbage known as inept managers. Have employees write up a synopsis of their managers performance and have an independent group look over the responses to eliminate such problems ineffectual and corrupt managers are responsible for including their positions. Some need to be taken out of civil service entirely.

Wed, Aug 21, 2019

Lots of worthless management bloat similar to the big outfit in Bethesda. Reduce such bloat and the mission will continue by dedicated employees.

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Edward A. Zurndorfer Certified Financial Planner
Mike Causey Columnist
Tom Fox VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service
Mathew B. Tully Legal Analyst

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