Almost half of a sampling of contracts issued by the Pentagon, Homeland Security Department, and Health and Human Services Department did not include language to limit contractors’ misuse or unauthorized disclosure of sensitive information, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office.
The U.S. government spent a whopping $332 billion in fiscal 2009 on contracts for critical support services such as quality assurance, acquisition management, and program management, the watchdog said. But employees of these contractors often work with sensitive, non-classified government information ranging from trade secrets to confidential statistical data, computer security, taxpayer data, and personnel records.
An analysis of 42 contracts issued by the three departments found almost half lacked contract provisions to safeguard against unauthorized contractor disclosure and inappropriate use of sensitive information. “In the absence of such safeguards, there is higher risk of unauthorized disclosure or misuse,” the GAO said. Contracts should require contractor employees to promptly inform the federal government when a violation occurs and spell out what a contractor must do to lessen the harm from the disclosure.
Federal agencies can use as a model a two-page nondisclosure agreement form developed by the Treasury Department’s Troubled Asset Relief banking bailout program, the GAO said. Contractor employees involved with TARP are required to sign the form before they are allowed access to sensitive information.
FAST FACT: In 2006, a contractor accidentally gave compact discs to several FOIA requesters that contained Social Security numbers of 350,000 individuals receiving tobacco payments through a USDA program. And in 2008, a State Department contractor’s workers snooped through the electronic passport files of presidential candidates Barack Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and John McCain.
Other new watchdog reports released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and by various federal Offices of Inspector General (OIG):
* State Dept. failed to adequately monitor Kellogg Brown & Root’s logistical services to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad (OIG)
* U.S. embassy in Kabul’s hiring of Afghan nationals complies with State Dept. policy and does not reflect family or ethnic favoritism (OIG)
* Pentagon increasingly likely to face “hybrid warfare,” combining conventional and irregular tactics, but it has not formally analyzed the threat (GAO)
* Of $356 million in emergency education benefits the VA paid in fall 2009, $103 million went to ineligible veterans or service members (OIG)
* No evidence found to substantiate allegations of bias among the Coast Guard’s administrative law judges, but Guard should do more to avoid appearance of impropriety (OIG)
* Transportation Dept. has effectively used contractors to monitor grants for transit facilities construction (GAO)
* IRS is doing a better job of responding to Freedom of Information Act requests (OIG)
* Two senior Republicans say the Amtrak board in 2009 removed the agency’s inspector general, Fred Weiderhold, without prior notice to Congress, as required (report by Sen. Charles Grassley and Rep. Darrell Issa).
And a hat tip to Secrecy News, published by the Federation of American Scientists, for obtaining copies of the Congressional Research Service’s following recent reports:
* Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses (August 20)
* Afghanistan: U.S. Foreign Assistance (August 12)
* U.S. Foreign Aid to the Palestinians (August 12)
* The Federal Food Safety System: A Primer (August 18)
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