The Department of the Interior (DOI) is facing challenges in implementing the CARES Act, along with IT, financial and programmatic issues during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the agency’s inspector general.
According to a recent Office of Inspector General (OIG) report, DOI has struggled to implement an enterprise IT security program, and the increased need for remote access due to COVID-19 restrictions could make matters worse for the agency. The IG report also cites the pandemic-driven increase in phishing and malware schemes that requires extra vigilance from DOI.
Under the CARES Act, Congress gave DOI $756 million in funding – $453 million for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and $69 million for the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE). The OIG report explains that the Navajo Nation by mid-May had surpassed New York and New Jersey as the highest infection rate of the coronavirus per capita, with tribal schools and jails having “high-risk populations within a more general high-risk population.” Ensuring student safety and avoiding over-crowding at detention centers by BIA has posed complications and financial strain, the IG said.
On the programmatic front, COVID-19 has led to difficulties in balancing public and employee safety with access to public land, the report says.
“Facilitating access to public lands could jeopardize the health and safety of the public and DOI employees due to active COVID-19 transmission,” the report said. “Conversely, reducing active DOI employee presence on public lands while still allowing public access could help protect employee safety, but runs the risk of jeopardizing the land and resources themselves.”
The report equates restricting employee monitoring to maintain employee safety to the 2019 Federal government shutdown in terms of creating similar resource protection and maintenance challenges.