In the latest of many scandals to rock the U.S. Census Bureau, a federal audit reveals that the agency’s vast computer system is not secure, risking droves of crucial data collected from the American public.
This is incredibly alarming considering the bureau, which is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, gathers personal information about every individual who lives in the United States. The information, especially the decennial count of people living in the country, is used by the government to determine representation in Congress and federal funding for states.
Incredibly, the agency is not protecting the confidentiality of its data, according to the findings of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress. A report issued this week reveals that the Census Bureau is not effectively implementing information security controls to protect the computer system that holds all the data.
Controls designed to regulate who or what can access the Census Bureau’s systems are a major problem, the probe found, because the agency doesn’t bother identifying or authenticating users or restricting access to only those necessary to perform official duties. It also fails to implement appropriate physical security controls and doesn’t properly encrypt data in transmission and at rest.
“Until the bureau implements a complete and comprehensive security program, it will have limited assurance that its information and systems are being adequately protected against unauthorized access, use, disclosure, modification, disruption, or loss,” the report states. It goes on to point out the obvious: “A data breach could result in the public’s loss of confidence in the bureau and could affect its ability to collect census data.”
Americans may have lost confidence in the Census Bureau long ago considering its many transgressions. As far back as 2008, congressional investigators determined that the bureau had severe information technology shortcomings that made the 2010 census a high-risk operation. More than five years later nothing has changed and in fact, the Department of Commerce “expressed broad agreement” with the audit’s findings.
It seems the agency does little in the way of security. As the 2010 count approached, it actually hired violent criminals to enter the homes of unsuspecting residents to gather data. The astounding information was made public in a federal audit that revealed the bureau failed to adequately conduct mandatory background checks for tens of thousands of temporary census workers, clearing hundreds of violent criminals in the process.
Around the same time, the Census Bureau’s deputy director (Preston Jay Waite) created a ruckus when he demanded federal agents cease immigration raids during the 2010 count so the government can get an accurate tally of people in the country illegally.
The unprecedented effort to reach illegal immigrants included spending $26 million to send Spanish-language questionnaires directly to homes for the first time in the decennial count’s history. It marked the first time that the government sent to entire regions census forms in a language other than English.
Prior to that, the Census Bureau partnered with a fraud-infested community group (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now or ACORN) when it was under criminal investigation nationwide. Congress eventually cut ACORN’s funding and the group claimed to shut down but has simply rebranded. Read about it in this special Judicial Watch report.
In a classic case of government incompetence, a faulty computer system likely skewed 2010 census data just as federal auditors predicted nearly a year ago in a lengthy report to Congress.Because appropriate action was not taken to correct the problems, crucial census figures—used to determine seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and to distribute hundreds of billions of dollars—may have been negatively affected. The“instability” and “inadequacies” in the defective system also cost taxpayers a lot of money, according to the Commerce Department Inspector General.In a previous probe, investigators from the same federal watchdog essentially predicted this would happen. In a May 2010 quarterly report to Congress, the Commerce Department Inspector General warned of an “unstable” information technology system with “frequent outages and reliability problems.” Besides suffering accuracy problems, the deficiencies had added $1.6 million in costs, according to that assessment.The bottom line was made clear to lawmakers; unless the computer system’s stability “improves substantially” costs and the “accuracy of its count are at risk.” Around the same time, a separate report issued by the investigative arm of Congress, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), reiterated the assessment, stating that the system wasn’t stable and “did not function reliably” in tests.Evidently the warnings from two different watchdogs were not taken seriously and the decennial count was marred with problems, according to the latest quarterly census report issued to lawmakers by the Commerce IG. “Census was forced to work in what can best be described as crisis management mode, repairing technical problems and developing clerical workarounds and automated contingencies,” it says in part.The U.S. Census Bureau was also plagued by several other scandals last year, including a multi million-dollar advertising campaign catering to illegal immigrants and knowingly hiring a registered sex offender with a long criminal history to make home visits. The agency also came under fire for spending a chunk of change on paraphernalia sporting its official logo and refusing to disclose the tab.