Weaknesses in Treasury Department computer systems that track federal debt are severe enough to disrupt accounting, according to a government audit.
Newly discovered security vulnerabilities at the Bureau of the Fiscal Service, coupled with older unfixed problems, constitute a "significant deficiency" for financial reporting purposes, the Government Accountability Office found.
The weaknesses "increase the risk of unauthorized access, modification or disclosure of sensitive data and programs, which could result in the disruption of critical operations," Gary Engel, GAO director for financial management and assurance, wrote in an audit released July 18.
The collective 20 shortcomings involve security management, computer access controls, and security settings. There were 14 new deficiencies detected, along with six defects identified in 2012 that were not corrected.
A separate version of the report marked “For Official Use Only” details the weaknesses and provides recommendations for Fiscal Service Commissioner Sheryl Morrow.
As of September 2013, the Fiscal Service managed about $16,732 billion of federal debt, which was mostly money borrowed to run government operations. About $11,976 billion of that sum was debt held by the public and $4,756 billion was intragovernmental debt holdings. Interest expense on federal debt was $425 billion in fiscal 2013.
The significant deficiency, while not a material weakness, "is important enough to merit the attention of those charged with governance of Fiscal Service," Engel said.
The Fiscal Service commissioner acknowledged the deficiency in internal controls over financial reporting and is taking action to address it, according to agency comments on a draft report.
"Fiscal Service will continue to look for efficient and effective ways to improve and ensure the consistent application of agencywide security controls over all systems," the final audit states.
GAO officials plan to re-examine the status of the 20 vulnerabilities during an audit of the fiscal year 2014 Schedule of Federal Debt.
On Thursday, a separate GAO report found that information security weaknesses remain at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, although none are considered significant deficiencies. FDIC, which regulates U.S. financial institutions, has not addressed vulnerabilities dating back to 2012 that affect the “confidentiality, integrity and availability of financial systems and information,” the audit states.