Federal IT leaders see ‘critical moment’ in securing systems from fraud

The CIO council convened a symposium to tackle "fraud prevention and detection" after potentially tens of billions in pandemic relief funds were stolen by fraud...

Federal IT leaders are looking across agencies for ideas and potential solutions to combatting fraud in public programs, spurred on by the unprecedented scale of pandemic relief fraud that continues to come into focus.

The Federal Chief Information Officers Council hosted a first-of-its-kind “Fraud Detection and Prevention Symposium” on Tuesday, at General Services Administration headquarters in Washington.

The event was organized by the council’s innovation committee. Ann Dunkin, CIO at the Department of Energy and one of the leaders on the innovation committee, said the symposium was designed “to create action” and understand how some agencies may have already addressed digital fraud challenges.

“Let’s not reinvent the wheel, but rather share best practices and solutions,” Dunkin said. “We want to identify key points of contacts and experts in this space. So let’s not be afraid to collaborate. We want to understand where gaps remain, and where technology solutions may be required.”

Clare Martorana, the federal CIO at the Office of Management and Budget, said it’s “a unique moment in time” for agencies to “work differently” as they grapple with lessons from the pandemic, while also modernizing their IT systems and implementing new cybersecurity directives.

She said CIOs will need to work across their agencies, with chief financial officers, the oversight community and others to solve the fraud detection and prevention challenge.

“This is a critical moment for all of us,” Martorana said. “This is a combination of the need based on what we have seen occur during the pandemic and the pandemic relief. But we’re also on a really important journey from a cybersecurity perspective, where the federal government, we have put out some really great policies.”

Agencies are still implementing a sweeping May 2021 cybersecurity executive order. The federal zero trust strategy released last January, direct agencies to introduce phishing-proof multifactor authentication across their systems, including public facing ones.

Meanwhile, federal watchdogs are still uncovering the scale of the fraud within the approximately $5 trillion in COVID-19 relief spending.

And during a Congressional hearing earlier this month, Comptroller General Gene Dodaro said the Government Accountability Office is, for the first time, trying to come up with an estimate of the total amount of fraud across all federal programs.

Deidre Harrison, the acting controller at OMB, said while federal CFOs are still identifying pandemic-related fraud and recovering funds whenever possible, they also need to look forward to prepare with better fraud detection and prevention tools in the future.

“Not ‘if,’ but when we have another event, we need to be better prepared,” Harrison said. “We need to make sure that we can prevent the fraud that we just experienced.”

Harrison also alluded to forthcoming guidance around identity and payments.

“We know that we need to make sure that we can be sure that the people who are saying they are the applicants, they are in fact who they represent themselves to be,” Harrison said. “That’s a tough challenge, and one that Claire and I and our teams are working hard on getting agencies the guidance they need to be ready to identify whether or not individuals are in fact who they say they are.”

The Joint Financial Management Improvement Program (JFMIP) is now finalizing a three-year plan “on all of the activities we can do for payment and program activities,” Harrison told Federal News Network following the panel at the CIO council symposium.

The JFMIP is a cooperative financial management venture between GAO, OMB, the Office of Personnel Management and the Treasury Department

“I think there are lots of opportunities for training,” Harrison said. “And then I think there’s also, probably, lots of opportunities that we will uncover where we can be doing things better. And so some of that is still to be determined, but we’re working hard on identifying the whole suite of activities that agencies can and should be doing.”

The JFMIP recently unveiled a payment integrity tool to help agencies better investigate improper payments. The program has found verifying and authenticating an applicant’s identity, may be among the most significant driving factors behind improper payments.



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