The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) is not yet well-positioned to secure nationwide election infrastructure before the 2020 election cycle, according to a Feb. 6 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.

According to the report, CISA originally promised to release earlier this year strategic and operational plans to guide state and local officials through 2020 election security protocol. But only the strategic plan was released before the 2020 primary elections began earlier this month. The agency intended to complete its operational plan by January 2020, but ongoing reorganization and staffing shortages have indefinitely postponed the guidance.

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“Until CISA finalizes its strategic and operations plans for supporting elections in 2020 and ensures that the operations plan fully addresses all of the aspects of its strategic plan, CISA will not be well-positioned to execute a nationwide strategy for securing election infrastructure prior to the start of 2020 election activities,” the report states.

RAND Corporation reviews of CISA after the 2018 midterm elections also identified election security challenges that CISA has failed to address. Shortcomings include a lack of coordination between national and regional field staff, and failure to develop an agencywide platform documenting election threats and trends.

“CISA’s unfinished planning means the agency may be limited in its ability to execute a nationwide strategy for securing election infrastructure,” GAO wrote. “CISA has not fully assessed and documented how it will address challenges identified in prior assessments, which limits the ability of CISA to address these challenges in its current efforts.”

State and local election officials told GAO that their relationships with CISA has generally improved since past elections. In seven out of eight states reviewed in the audit, officials said that they were “very satisfied” with CISA’s election-related work.

“Officials from one state told us that, despite initial reservations about DHS’s role in election security, CISA has become a good partner over time,” GAO reported. “An official from another state expressed appreciation that CISA appears to be honestly and earnestly working to gain states’ trust.”

GAO made three recommendations to the CISA director:

  • Urgently finalize the strategic and operations plans for securing election infrastructure for upcoming elections;
  • Ensure that the operations plan fully addresses all efforts in the strategic plan; and
  • Document how the agency intends to address challenges identified in its prior election assistance efforts and incorporate remedial actions into 2020 plans.

CISA concurred with all recommendations.

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Katie Malone
Katie Malone
Katie Malone is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.