It’s not clear how much economic development the federal Economic Development Administration, a division of the Commerce Department, actually produces. But the Commerce Department’s inspector general has some observations about the administration’s performance after a cyber attack that turned out to be bogus.
“EDA’s persistent, mistaken beliefs resulted in an excessive response and ultimately unnecessary expenditure of valuable resources,” the inspector general wrote in a report. “There was no evidence to suggest that EDA’s primary business application had been targeted by a cyber attack or maliciously altered.”
The Washington Post explained how it happened. In December 2011 the federal Department of Homeland Security flagged a possible virus. “Inexperienced, unqualified IT employees” considered it a major cyber attack that put the entire Commerce Department at risk. They sought help from Homeland Security, the Department of Energy, the National Security Agency and a private cyber security contractor. Their investigations revealed no widespread malware infection. But that judgment did not prevent the EDA from pushing ahead with its costly recovery plan.
EDA officials destroyed desktops, laptops, servers and printers worth $175,000 and “stopped only because they ran out of money” when Commerce officials “denied their request for millions of dollars to demolish more equipment.” They spent $823,000 on the outside firm to investigate the attack and $688,000 on a “long-term fix for a problem that didn’t exist.” They further wasted $1.1 million on new computers and other temporary equipment. The expenses of nearly $3 million consumed half the department’s technology budget. This is all highly educational for taxpayers.
The federal government hires people who are unqualified for their jobs. Such employees, and even those fully qualified, are capable of ignoring expert advice and willfully indulging prodigious waste of taxpayers’ money. Such misconduct takes a long time to emerge and the inspector general’s judgment, while welcome and valuable, amounts to a history of government waste. Prevention measures are obviously inadequate. No word of any employees disciplined or fired.
EDA apologists claimed they erred on the side of caution, and that the agency continued with “excellent customer service.” Actually, no government agency provides “customer” service, not even the IRS, which has at least acknowledged that what it calls customer service was “horrible.”