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Why the Energy Dept. Didn’t Save More on Phone Calls Over the Internet

Nenov Brothers Images/

The Energy Department is losing out on potential savings because it has failed to coordinate its many efforts to move telephone systems to the Internet, according to a new report.

Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, networks in place across the department were also inconsistently and usually inadequately secured, the department’s inspector general found.

Auditors identified more than 14 locations within the agency that were independently transitioning from traditional telephone lines to VoIP systems. Combined, the moves cost more than $56 million.

“Absent effective coordination, one of the key advantages of VoIP was diminished -- cost reduction through scalability,” the report said.

For instance, four sites at the Oak Ridge Reservation in Tennessee alone had separate VoIP systems or pilot programs to implement new networks, the report said. Some of these projects were part of an initiative out of the department’s science office that appears to duplicate efforts coming from the chief information officer, who was simultaneously implementing a separate VoIP system at Energy headquarters.

“Without improvements, the duplicative and fragmented VoIP implementation approach that we identified could continue unabated and result in additional, unnecessary expenditures of resources at programs or sites that have not yet upgraded to VoIP systems,” Inspector General Gregory Friedman said in a letter accompanying the report.

“We acknowledge that upgrading to a VoIP solution is likely to improve the department's telecommunications infrastructure,” he said. “However, the path the department is on is not fiscally sustainable or efficient.”

The path also is not safe, the report said. Energy employees work on sensitive projects, yet most of the department’s VoIP networks were not properly secured.

VoIP systems have all the same vulnerabilities as normal data networks, plus additional weaknesses that result from a significant increase in IP addresses. VoIP systems are targets for malware and denial-of service attacks.

“Contrary to federal requirements, seven of the nine sites we reviewed had conducted limited or no vulnerability scanning and penetration testing on installed VoIP systems,” Friedman said. “The department's information systems and networks will be at increased risk of compromise if cybersecurity controls are not appropriately identified and implemented.”

An Energy field office in Colorado earlier this year withdrew a solicitation for its own VoIP system “due to recent happenings that are beyond the Golden Field Offices control.”

(Image via Nenov Brothers Images/

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