Feds Can’t Assure Public that Personal Information is Protected by Agencies

GAO concludes that Federal agencies cannot guarantee citizens that the Privacy act is being implemented to protect personal information.

Do Federal agencies comply with the Privacy Act?

Various news reports would lead readers to believe that agencies are not complying with the result that information on American citizens cannot be protected by the agencies that have this information.

There is some basis for this belief. It isn’t that agency officials don’t want to enforce it. But, say some of these officials, the technology is rapidly changing and there are a number of questions about how the Act should be applied.

Privacy Act officials in agencies told GAO that they need guidance from the Office of Management and Budget on how the Act applies to electronic records, as one example.

Other problems are that many agencies don’t place much importance to the requirements of the Privacy Act and many employees don’t know how it is to be interpreted and applied if they know about it.

As a result, implementation and enforcement of the Privacy Act is uneven, at best. GAO concludes that the Federal Government cannot provide the public with assurance that legislated individual privacy rights are protected by the agencies that collect personal information.

GAO recommends that the Director, OMB, take a number of steps aimed at improving agency compliance with the Privacy Act, including overseeing and monitoring agency actions, reassessing the need for additional guidance to agencies, and raising agency awareness on the requirements of the Privacy Act.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47