House Panel Wants to Give Agency CIOs Authority to Crack Down on Personal Email Use

kpatyhka/Shutterstock.com

Labor groups fought efforts at DHS and OPM recently to shut off personal email access.

Lawmakers on Tuesday advanced legislation that would let federal agencies stop employees from accessing personal email and other online programs or using personal devices for security purposes -- without consulting unions. 

The measure stems from recent incidents at the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of Personnel Management, where labor groups fought efforts there to shut off personal email access.

The American Federation of Government Employees filed a grievance against DHS Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2014 for blocking webmail, and the Federal Labor Relations Agency sided with the union. When OPM in July locked employees out of Gmail, Facebook and other social networks after a massive background check hack, the union threatened to sue.

The Federal Information Systems Safeguard Act, approved by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is meant to overturn the 2014 FLRA decision. The proposal would grant agency heads “sole and exclusive authority" to take actions that will bolster federal networks, without allowing unions a chance to bargain. 

The panel's top Democrat condemned what he said is a broad brush measure that could violate all manner of laws. The bill lets an agency "take any action" it determines is needed to reduce security weaknesses.

"No matter what you believe about blocking employee access to email, this bill goes so far beyond that it loses the point," Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said earlier in the day, in a statement opposing the legislation. 

After a nearly party-line vote, Cummings aide Jennifer Werner told Nextgov that Democratic members believe agencies already possess all the authority necessary to secure federal systems and merely need to discuss the execution of those decisions with federal employee representatives. 

Cummings, in his statement, said the proposal could open the door for any number of legal abuses in the name of security. 

"Could 'any action' mean violating the Privacy Act?" he put forward. "Could 'any action' mean an agency can avoid required reports to Congress on cybersecurity?

The American Federation of Government Employees in a Jan. 11 letter urged the committee to reject the bill. 

The legislation "would allow an agency’s information technology policy to supersede already existing collective bargaining agreements," Jacqueline Simon, the union's acting legislative director, said in the letter. "Federal agencies should not have unbridled authority to punish federal employees for any use of agency IT systems."

Committee Republicans say the current labor board ruling sets a dangerous precedent for information security.

“If agency directors are obstructed from taking immediate action to protect employees’ information without first going through collective bargaining, federal agencies are more vulnerable to attack,” Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and bill sponsor Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Ala., said in a Feb. 24 Washington Times op-ed. “Putting collective bargaining rights above security is preposterous.”

Chaffetz’s Senate counterpart has previously voiced support for letting departments have the ultimate say-so over restricting personal use of IT for security purposes.

At a Feb. 4 confirmation hearing for the new OPM director, Beth Cobert, the acting director, testified she cannot access her personal Gmail from her OPM computer.

"That's the way a lot of threats come in," she told Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee members. "We all need to change the way we interact, the way we use systems at work and at home."

Committee Chairman Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., agreed with Cobert, adding such IT actions, "should really be left up to the administration, not necessarily in negotiation with the union."

(Image via /Shutterstock.com)

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.