IRS Data Breach Hearing Zeroes in on Agency’s Cyber Defenses

WASHINGTON – Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, underscored the increasing sophistication and frequency of cyber attacks on federal agencies during the committee hearing, “The IRS Data Breach: Steps to Protect Americans’ Personal Information” as the committee examined the most recent data breach on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Sen. Carper stressed the need for Congress to ensure that the IRS has the funding, resources, and authorities necessary to adequately protect its networks from the evolving and continuous threats of cyber space. Congress has significantly reduced IRS funding in recent years, and has done so while also tasking the agency with far greater responsibilities. The IRS is operating at its lowest level of funding since Fiscal Year 2008.

“Despite the fraud prevention measures and precautions in place by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to fortify its networks, skilled criminals used innovative methods to manipulate the system and steal millions of taxpayer dollars in fraudulent returns. The sophistication and style of this cyber attack should raise the alarm that our adversaries in cyber space continue to evolve and adapt to our defenses – and that these kinds of cyber attacks and data breaches will continue to occur,” Sen. Carper said. “At the IRS, steady and substantial budget cuts from Congress over the last five fiscal years have rendered its mission to protect taxpayer dollars all the more challenging, especially as the threats of cyber space continue to grow. My colleagues and I in Congress have an urgent obligation to ensure that all federal agencies, including the IRS, have the adequate funding and authority they need to better protect their networks online as they continue to come under attack. At the same time, federal agencies, including the IRS, must do what it takes to defend Americans’ sensitive information from cyber attacks. It is my hope that Congress and the Administration can continue to work together to tackle this growing cyber threat.”

At the hearing, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen testified that the agency’s systems continue to come under attack in cyber space – therefore the agency must continue to channel strained resources to secure its networks and improve its cyber defenses.

“Securing our systems and protecting taxpayers’ information is a top priority for the IRS. Even with our constrained resources as a result of cuts to our budget totaling $1.2 billion since 2010, we continue to devote significant time and attention to this challenge. At the same time, it is clear that criminals have been able to gather increasing amounts of personal data as the result of data breaches at sources outside the IRS, which makes protecting taxpayers increasingly challenging and difficult,” Commissioner Koskinen testified.

Commissioner Koskinen continued that Congress has an important role to help the IRS complete its mission by approving the President’s Budget request, which includes $101 million directed to identity theft and refund fraud, and $188 million to bolster critical information technology infrastructure.