Secret Service Computers Only Work at 60 Percent Capacity; Agency Uses 1980s Mainframe

The system is "fragile" and cannot sustain tempo of operational missions.

WASHINGTON, Feb. 26, 2010— -- A classified review of the United States Secret Service's computer technology found that the agency's computers were fully operational only 60 percent of the time because of outdated systems and a reliance on a computer mainframe that dates to the 1980s, according to Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn.

"We have here a premiere law enforcement organization in our country which is responsible for the security of the president and the vice president and other officials of our government, and they have to have better IT than they have," said Lieberman, who is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

Sources tell ABC News that the Secret Service was so plagued by computer problems that the agency invited the National Security Agency to formally review its information technology systems. The Secret Service's databases are outdated and users are at times unable to conduct searches from one system to another.

Lieberman says he's had "concern for a while" about the Secret Service computers. A 60 percent, fully operational average is far worse than "industry and government standards that are around 98 percent generally," Lieberman said.

Asked about the review and the NSA review of Secret Service systems, service spokesman Malcolm Wiley said, "At our request, NSA performed an independent evaluation of our existing IT network to determine if any deficiencies or potential vulnerabilities existed. ...Results of the review suggested we needed enhancements to ensure that our systems remained sound. A number of the recommended changes have already been implemented."

According to officials at the time of the review, the unofficial cost estimate to update the system was $187 million. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees the Secret Service, has so far allocated $33 million, and requested $69 million in the department's most recent budget request.

The DHS budget justification for 2011 noted, "The Secret Service data environment is fragile and cannot sustain the tempo of current or future operational missions. The existing hardware infrastructure is more than 5 years old and is prone to failures."

The service says that its protective details have not been impacted by any issues with their computer systems. They note that the agency is responsible for protective detail as well as a vast array of electronic crimes, such as banking and financial fraud issues and cyber-security issues.

The recent scrutiny the agency faced after three individuals were able to attend a state dinner without being invited, were not attributable to any computer deficiencies at the Secret Service, according to officials. "The systems that impact our protective responsibilities are constantly monitored and potential problems are immediately addressed," Malcolm said.

A Secret Service contracting memo from Oct. 16, 2009, reviewed by ABC News found, "Currently, 42 mission-oriented applications run on a 1980s IBM mainframe with a 68 percent performance reliability rating. Networks, data systems, applications, and IT security do not meet current operational requirements. The IT systems lack appropriate bandwidth to run multiple applications to effectively support USSS offices and operational missions around the world."

"We have managed our aged IT infrastructure well past its intended capability. We now have a get-well plan to resolve our IT needs and requirements," Malcom said.

This is not the first time that drastically out of date computer systems have been discovered in federal agencies. The FBI revealed it suffered from major computer problems following the scrutiny the bureau received after the 9/11 attacks.

The bureau's most embarrassing computer problem came in 2005 when the FBI had to scrap the $170 million Virtual Case File program, which was designed to help agents track cases electronically.

Since then, the FBI has been setting up a new $451 million project called Sentinel, which will allow agents to use a Web-based system to incorporate the FBI's old existing files. While the Justice Department inspector general has expressed some concerns that the program runs slowly for users and some cost overruns, it is scheduled to be completed later this year.

Asked why DHS was requesting less money than the initial estimate of $187 million, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said, "Part of it is an assessment of how much it would actually cost and also what can be purchased and what is needed on a priority basis."

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