DOD mulls restrictions on foreign IT workers

DOD mulls restrictions on foreign IT workers

A draft Defense Department proposal would remove many foreign nationals from IT jobs deemed sensitive.

The proposal, which could receive approval in 60 days, has been in the works for about two years, said a Defense spokesman who emphasized that it was not a 'knee-jerk reaction to Sept 11.'

If approved, foreign nationals in jobs involving sensitive but unclassified data would likely be moved to other positions.

'The IT business has become largely contractual, with programming and data work being farmed out to areas where there is cheap labor,' said Pete Nelson, Defense's deputy director for personnel security. 'If this trend does not simultaneously take into consideration security requirements, there would be reason for concern.'

The proposal is based on the April 2000 Insider Threat Mitigation Report, a set of recommendations by Defense security officials to reduce threats posed by employees'ranging from military service members and contract workers to civilian staff members and employees of other federal agencies.

Inside threats

A Defense team found that DOD systems were particularly vulnerable to inside threats. The team cited a DOD inspector general's report that found that 87 percent of suspects in cases in which sensitive information was compromised were employees.

One recommendation calls for requiring a waiver, approved by the head of a Defense agency, before foreign nationals are given access to sensitive data. Another calls for enhanced layers of security and background checks for some foreign national employees.

'The threat to Defense information has never been greater,' the report said. 'As an example, the environment for espionage is particularly conducive to the collection and sale of technical weapons system information.'

After the report came out, the Navy surveyed its dependency on foreign IT workers. The result echoed the team's recommendations and the draft proposal before DOD.

The Navy backs the proposal requiring background investigations of all contractors and foreign nationals working in sensitive but unclassified IT positions.

Although Defense officials said the proposal was in the works before Sept. 11, the terrorist attacks may have sped up the process. Nelson acknowledged the proposal comes at a time when security measures are being enhanced across the nation.

'As we review our security requirements as a nation, we need to ensure all people with access to sensitive IT systems are cleared and properly vetted for the material to which they have access,' he said.

Nelson said DOD has not yet determined how many contractors would be affected by the proposal.

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