A new government watchdog report says the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity agency is “not well-positioned” to safeguard the nation’s election systems ahead of the 2020 cycle.
The report from the Government Accountability Office arrives at the start of the primary season amid concerns that Russia and other hostile outside actors will attempt to interfere.
“In the absence of completed plans, the (Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency) is not well-positioned to execute a nationwide strategy for securing election infrastructure prior to the start of the 2020 election cycle,” GAO wrote.
The report makes three recommendations to DHS: it should “urgently” finalize a strategic plan for securing election infrastructure, make sure it puts into place the operations necessary to execute the plan, and document how the agency will address issues that were identified in previous elections.
DHS said it agreed with the recommendations and will finalize its plans by February 14.
CISA said in a statement that the agency is “ready for 2020.”
“For three years, we’ve been building partnerships, providing support and services including penetration testing, phishing assessments and preparedness exercises to state and local officials charged with securing our election infrastructure,” the statement read. “As primary season begins and the 2020 election season gets underway we are prepared and ready to support our partners across the election community. Today, we are working with all 50 states and more than 2,400 jurisdictions. This whole-of-government effort to secure elections has been unprecedented. We appreciate GAO’s recognition of these efforts. Our work is not done, we continue to build and grow every day, but we understand the threat and the need to take action to keep our systems safe, and we are ready for 2020.”
GAO wrote that even when its plans are complete, CISA may not be addressing all of the potential problems. “CISA officials stated that CISA was unlikely to develop additional operations plans for the other two lines of effort – providing security assistance to political campaigns and raising public awareness on foreign influence threats and building resilience.”
Despite fears of more Russian meddling and outside intrusion in the 2020 cycle, the Trump administration has only reluctantly paid attention to the matter, CNN has reported. Senior White House staff have “felt it wasn’t a good idea to bring up issues related to Russia in front of the President,” a US government official told CNN in April, and President Donald Trump has repeatedly downplayed the threat Russia poses to US election security and dismissed that Kremlin interference played a role in his 2016 victory.
Administration officials have publicly insisted that they take the issue seriously.
The GAO report comes just as the Democrats’ first-in-the-nation voting contest, the Iowa caucuses, has been mired in controversy following the failure of a mobile app that derailed the election process on Monday. The state party has publicly said the issue was not caused by a “hack or an intrusion.”
CNN’s Kelly Mena contributed to this report.