GSA Could Be Vulnerable to Security Threats From ‘Trusted Insiders’

Visual3Dfocus/Shutterstock.com

Watchdog finds gaps in a program meant to protect personnel, facilities, operations and resources.

The General Services Administration needs to bolster its efforts to protect against insider threats from current and recently separated employees, a watchdog reported on Wednesday. 

The GSA inspector general reviewed the agency’s processes to thwart harmful actions from “trusted insiders” to its personnel, facilities, operations and resources. GSA has about 12,000 employees throughout its central office, Federal Acquisition Service, Public Buildings Service, Office of Governmentwide Policy, 11 national staff offices, 11 regional offices and two independent offices. An October 2011 executive order and subsequent policy from November 2012 laid out requirements for agencies’ insider threat programs. In 2014, GSA established its own program (a two-person team that reports to the senior designated official who is the associate administrator of GSA’s Office of Mission Assurance) and in 2017 the National Insider Threat Task Force certified it met the minimum standards. However, the inspector general found some areas of concern since then. 

“We found that GSA’s [insider threat program] does not consistently collaborate with other GSA staff offices to gather key threat information proactively and does not communicate insider threat risks and program challenges to the GSA administrator as required,” said the report. “Instead, the [program] senior designated official has taken a reactive approach that leaves GSA susceptible to insider threats.” 

Another issue was that after the National Insider Threat Task Force deemed GSA’s insider threat program was at full operational capacity in November 2017, GSA’s insider threat working group disbanded because staff thought it was no longer needed. The group had members from the Office of Human Resources Management, Office of GSA IT, Office of the Chief Financial Officer and Office of Mission Assurance. 

The disbandment “violated GSA policy” and “eliminated the [program’s] only established means of formal collaboration with GSA’s staff offices,” said the report. 

“For example, the [program] was unaware of termination proposals for employees whose misconduct posed significant insider threat risks,” said the IG. “These employees faced termination for: sexually harassing employees; threatening to kill their supervisor and harm co-workers; making false claims about their past criminal record to gain employment; and altering official purchase documents.”

In addition the National Insider Threat Task Force said monitoring and preventing insider threats in relation to separated or terminated employees was a best practice, yet GSA’s program was “ineffective and is compounded by GSA’s failure to consistently deactivate IT accounts for these employees and to recover and destroy their [personal identity verification] cards,” said the IG. 

As a result of its review, the watchdog recommended that agency leadership take action to bolster cross-agency communication and collaboration with the insider threat program as well as increase its oversight of the separation and termination process for employees to ensure the program is aware of any potential risks. 

Katy Kale, acting GSA administrator, said the agency agrees with the recommendations. She also noted that although the working group was disbanded, “collaboration has taken place on a routine, but informal basis” and stressed the importance of this issue at the agency. The investigation spanned October 2018 to August 2020, which was during the Trump administration. 

Also during the Trump era, GSA came under fire for hampering the watchdog’s efforts to oversee COVID-19-related activities. GSA “established a centralized review and approval process of all [Office of Inspector General] audit inquiries that has compromised the integrity of information provided by GSA personnel,” said an IG report issued last month. “This process has caused frequent and unnecessary delay, and likely has had a chilling effect on [Public Building Service] employee responses.” 

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.