A cascade of problems started by an Army decision to switch who manages their childcare subsidy program resulted in the personal information of over 9,000 Army children being available to contractors who had not received background checks, according to a new report from the GSA’s inspector general.
The IG started the investigation after Army family complaints that GSA contractors were handing out personal information, such as children’s names and day care locations, without ensuring that the people asking for it were qualified to have it.
“The purpose of this report is to alert the CFO to Army families’ sensitive information, to include personally identifiable information (PII), put at risk due to instances of GSA contractor personnel given access to systems and information prior to completing: background investigations or fingerprint checks; privacy training required by GSA policy, and non-disclosure agreements required by the contract,” the report said. “Further, we uncovered inconsistent application of criteria in allowing GSA contractor personnel to telework while working remotely with sensitive information, including PII, of Army families.”
The problems started when the Army decided to move management of the childcare subsidy that allows Army families to use private daycares at on-post costs to the GSA. In the past the GSA had managed the subsidy only for families who used GSA managed day cares in federal centers. The subsidy is used by families when on-post care is not available or too far away.
But when the GSA hit background check and hiring road bumps while getting contractors in place for the changeover, they went forward with the move anyway. That created a huge backlog of phone calls and complaints from Army families, according to the report. The GSA blamed the problems on “corrupted data” sent over by the previous contractor, but the IG couldn’t find any evidence of that, the report said.
At the time of the handover, however, Army families reported to me that there had been significant delays in the GSA meeting its subsidy payment dates to childcare providers – so much so that the families were worried that they would have to pay the difference out of pocket. That problem resolved itself before I could get enough information to do a story.
In retrospect, however, it was just a symptom of larger problems within the GSA’s handling of the issue. As they scrambled to deal with the handover, the IG report founds, they took short cuts on background checks and training for the contractors.
The result? Army family’s sensitive information, including exactly where to find children, their names, ages and more, was there for the gathering by un-vetted contractors.
The report, of course, recommends that the GSA start following their own standards for background checks and training before allowing anyone access to sensitive personal information.
In the meantime, the GSA said they are going to be transferring the responsibility for all the childcare operations under their care (including the Army) to the Department of Agriculture. But, the report says, the IG didn’t find out before the report’s completion whether or not they had notified Army families about that plan.
An Army family childcare subsidy user I spoke to hadn’t heard anything about that change.