National Security

Report: DHS Not Prepared to Secure 2020 Elections

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Federal oversight authorities are warning that the Department of Homeland Security is not prepared to ensure the integrity and security of the 2020 presidential election amid mounting concerns that foreign actors such as Russia could again influence the American vote.

While DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has made strides in implementing election security plans in recent years, it "is not well-positioned to execute a nationwide strategy for securing election infrastructure prior to the start of the 2020 election cycle," according to the Government Accountability Office, which investigates election security.

A new GAO report released Thursday identified several glaring omissions that could compromise the 2020 elections and cast doubt on the integrity of the process. Federal oversight authorities have petitioned the security agency to "urgently finalize [its] strategic plan and the supporting operations plan for securing election infrastructure for the upcoming election."

CISA has been tasked with ensuring the elections are not vulnerable to hackers and other state-backed actors.

While the agency has sought to address cyber issues and critical election infrastructure, it has failed to develop comprehensive plans that would provide security assistance to political campaigns. The agency also dropped the ball on efforts to raise public awareness of foreign influence threats, according to the GAO report.

Reviews of CISA’s response to the 2018 election found the agency is not capable of responding to incidents in a timely fashion on the ground. It also faces challenges in coordinating with other government agencies on election security issues.

The agency is "not always providing actionable recommendations in DHS classified threat briefings or making unclassified versions of the briefings available, which may have hindered election officials' ability to effectively communicate with information technology and other personnel in their agencies who did not have clearances," the GAO found.

Officials central to the election security process did not have access to "social media websites from situational awareness rooms, which hindered their collection and analysis of threat information," according to the report.

CISA also does not have enough field staff to provide timely on-the-ground work during Election Day. This "could limit the agency's timeliness in responding to an incident."

Further, current plans fail to outline a clear government response "in the event of a compromise that exhausts state and local resources, which may limit knowledge about agency capabilities that are available," according to the report.

The GAO in its report asked CISA to ensure its plans "fully address" all potential election hazards and address how it is responding to challenges that were brought forth during the previous election cycle.