More and more of what the federal government does relies on complex computer systems and networks. This high tech infrastructure makes the government work better by making services more efficient and accessible.
But that digital revolution also comes with big risks—just think back to the massive data breach at the Office of Personnel Management disclosed in 2015, when hackers compromised sensitive information about tens of millions of Americans. Last year, there were at least “30,899 cyber incidents that led to the compromise of information or system functionality” at federal agencies, according to a White House report released in March. The number of attacks on federal computer systems have risen sharply over the last decade.
So how much is the government spending to protect itself (and us) in this brave new world?
Unfortunately, the answer is “we don’t really know.” But a new tool from nonpartisan watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense provides perhaps the most comprehensive analysis of federal cybersecurity spending.
Last week, Taxpayers released a new database and visualization tool that breaks down unclassified federal spending on cybersecurity over the past decade—giving the public a peek at how each major federal agency is devoting resources toward protecting computer systems.
Taxpayers used public budget documents to build the database, but it wasn’t easy. “There is no government-wide standard definition or method of accounting for what qualifies as cyber funding and, therefore, no way to fully track it,” the organization explains on its methodology page. Agencies also use a variety of different approaches to tackle the issue, making it even harder to pin down their spending. Then, there is the government’s murky “black budget” of classified spending. So Taxpayers “settled on providing the best picture [it] could develop from extensive research of government programs” that are unclassified, spending two years searching through thousands of budget documents for terms like “information security” and “information assurance.”
Taxpayers found the amount spent on cybersecurity has quadrupled over 11 years. The group was able to tally $7 billion in unclassified cybersecurity spending in 2007, as compared to $28 billion in 2016. But some of that growth could be attributed to improvements in how the government tracks cybersecurity funding.
The resulting snapshot isn’t perfect, but it’s an impressive start—and a necessary one. After all, you can’t figure out what bang the government gets for its cybersecurity buck if you don’t know where those bucks go.