Internet of Things: Information on Use by Federal Agencies

What GAO Found

Many federal agencies (56 of 90) responding to GAO’s survey reported using Internet of Things (IoT) technologies. Most often, agencies reported using IoT to: (1) control or monitor equipment or systems (42 of 56); (2) control access to devices or facilities (39 of 56); or (3) track physical assets (28 of 56) such as fleet vehicles or agency property. Agencies also reported using IoT devices to perform tasks such as monitoring water quality, watching the nation’s borders, and controlling ships in waterway locks. Furthermore, IoT use by federal agencies may increase in the future, as many agencies reported planning to begin or expand the use of IoT. However, 13 agencies not using IoT technologies reported they did not plan to use the technologies for a range of reasons, including insufficient return on investment.

Example of Government’s Use of Internet of Things Technology: Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Water Monitoring Buoy

Surveyed agencies most frequently reported increasing data collection (45 of 74), and increasing operational efficiency (43 of 74) as benefits of using IoT technologies. Increasing data collection can aid decision-making and support technology development; increased efficiencies may allow agencies to accomplish more with existing resources. According to EPA officials, sensors are able to transmit data eliminating the need for employees to visit sites to collect data. The Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation reported that IoT technologies helped improve transit times through its locks. Agencies most frequently reported cybersecurity issues (43 of 74) and interoperability (30 of 74) as the most significant challenges to adopting IoT technologies. For example, the Transportation Security Administration’s officials told us they could not ensure the security and privacy of passenger information and subsequently took its network-connected security equipment offline until they developed a solution.

Most agencies’ officials responding to GAO’s survey (54 of 72), as well as officials interviewed as part of the case studies, reported using information technology (IT) policies developed by their agency, versus internal IoT-specific policies, to manage IoT technologies. Some agencies reported their IT policies were sufficient for the current challenges and risks associated with adopting IoT technologies, including cybersecurity. The Office of Management and Budget’s officials stated they do not typically make policies for specific IT components but if needed would work with the National Institute of Standards and Technology and others to develop such policies.

Why GAO Did This Study

IoT generally refers to devices—from sensors in vehicles to building thermostats— that collect information, communicate it to a network, and may complete a task based on that information. Although IoT technologies may present an opportunity for the federal government to operate more efficiently and effectively, federal agencies may also face challenges in acquiring and using IoT.

GAO was asked to review the federal government’s experience with IoT. This report describes (1) IoT technologies selected federal agencies are using, (2) the benefits and challenges of using IoT technologies, and (3) policies and guidance selected agencies follow in using and acquiring IoT technologies. GAO surveyed 115 Chief Information Officers (CIO) and senior IT officials at federal agencies and subcomponents based on, in part, agency membership in the federal CIO Council; 90 responded. However, not all agencies replied to each question. GAO also selected the Department of Commerce, the Department of Homeland Security, EPA, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as case studies. GAO selected these agencies based on, among other things, their fiscal year 2020 IT budgets and examples of IoT use from literature. For each case study, GAO reviewed documents and interviewed officials from the Office of the CIO from the agency and officials from selected sub-components that use the IoT technologies.

For more information, contact Andrew Von Ah at (202) 512-2834 or vonaha@gao.gov.

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    During fiscal years 2018 and 2019, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) obligated about $421 million through two grant programs to state and local governments to help identify and control lead paint hazards in housing for low-income households. HUD also issued guidelines for evaluating and controlling lead paint hazards, generally encouraging abatement (such as replacing building components containing lead) as the preferred long-term solution. HUD has supported research on lead paint hazard control and provided education and outreach to public housing agencies, property owners, and the public through publications and training events. HUD monitors lead paint-related risks in its Project-Based Rental Assistance Program, one of HUD's three largest rental assistance programs, through management reviews and periodic physical inspections, but has not conducted a comprehensive risk assessment to identify properties posing the greatest risk to children under the age of 6. HUD's management reviews include assessing property owners' compliance with lead paint regulations—such as by reviewing lead disclosure forms, records of lead inspections, and plans to address lead paint hazards. Inspectors from HUD's Real Estate Assessment Center also assess the physical condition of properties, including identifying damaged paint that could indicate lead paint risks. According to HUD officials, they have not conducted risk assessments in project-based rental assistance housing because they believe the program has relatively few older and potentially riskier properties. However, GAO's analysis of HUD data found that 21 percent of project-based rental assistance properties have at least one building constructed before 1978 (when lead paint was banned in homes) and house over 138,000 children under the age of 6. If HUD used available program data to inform periodic risk assessments, HUD could identify which of the properties pose the greatest risk of exposure to lead paint hazards for children under the age of 6. Unless HUD develops a strategy for managing the risks associated with lead paint and lead paint hazards in project-based rental assistance housing, it may miss the opportunity to prevent children under the age of 6 from being inadvertently exposed to lead paint in those properties. Project-Based Rental Assistance Properties with at Least One Building Built before 1978 and That House Children under Age 6, as of December 31, 2019 Note: Children under the age of 6 are at the greatest risk of lead exposure because they have frequent hand-to-mouth contact, often crawl on the floor, and ingest nonfood items. Lead paint exposure in children under the age of 6 can cause brain damage, slowed development, and learning and behavioral problems. Exposure to lead paint hazards can cause serious harm to children under 6 years old. HUD is required by law to reduce the risk of lead paint hazards in HUD-assisted rental housing—including project-based rental assistance (subsidies to make privately owned multifamily properties affordable to low-income households). The 2019 Consolidated Appropriations Act Joint Explanatory Statement includes a provision for GAO to review, among other things, HUD's oversight of lead paint and related hazards in affordable rental housing. This report (1) describes how HUD programs and guidance address lead paint hazards in HUD-assisted and other low-income rental housing, and (2) examines HUD's oversight procedures for assessing risk for lead paint hazards in project-based rental assistance housing. GAO reviewed HUD and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lead paint regulations and documents on lead programs and methods for addressing lead paint hazards. GAO reviewed HUD oversight policies and procedures and analyzed HUD data on building and tenant age. GAO interviewed staff at HUD, EPA, and organizations that advocate for safe affordable housing. GAO recommends that HUD (1) conduct periodic risk assessments for the Project-Based Rental Assistance Program and (2) develop and implement plans to proactively manage identified lead paint risks. HUD agreed to conduct periodic risk assessments and develop and implement a plan to proactively manage risks. For more information, contact John H. Pendleton at (202) 512-8678 or pendletonj@gao.gov.
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  • On the Passing of Former Marshallese President Litokwa Tomeing
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Attorney General Barr Delivers Opening Remarks at Press Conference Announcing Updates to Operation Legend
    In Crime News
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  • New York City Police Department Officer Charged with Acting As an Illegal Agent of the People’s Republic of China
    In Crime News
    A criminal complaint was unsealed today in federal court in the Eastern District of New York charging Baimadajie Angwang, 33, a New York City Police Department officer and United States Army reservist, with acting as an illegal agent of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as well as committing wire fraud, making false statements and obstructing an official proceeding. Angwang was arrested earlier today in Williston Park, New York, and his initial appearance is scheduled for this afternoon before United States Magistrate Judge Peggy Kuo at the United States Courthouse in Brooklyn, New York.
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  • How We ReImagined HHS
    In Human Health, Resources and Services
    On October 1, 2020, I [Read More…]
  • Statement of the Department of Justice Antitrust Division on the Closing of Its Investigation of London Stock Exchange Group and Refinitiv
    In Crime News
    Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice issued the following statement today in connection with the closing of the division’s investigation into the proposed acquisition of Refinitiv by the London Stock Exchange Group (LSEG): “After an extensive review of the proposed transaction, the Antitrust Division determined that the combination of LSEG and Refinitiv is unlikely to result in harm to competition or American consumers.”
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  • Guinea-Bissau Independence Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS Meeting on ISIS Threats in West Africa
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Statement of Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen on the Death of U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick
    In Crime News
    Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen issued the following statement:
    [Read More…]
  • United States and United Kingdom Sign Civil Air Transport Agreement
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Home Depot to Pay $20,750,000 Penalty for Nationwide Failure to Follow Rules for Conducting Renovations Involving Lead Paint
    In Crime News
    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Justice today announced a proposed nationwide settlement with Home Depot U.S.A. Inc. resolving alleged violations of the EPA’s Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) Rule at home renovations performed by Home Depot’s contractors across the country. The States of Utah, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, which have EPA-authorized RRP programs, are joining the United States in this action.
    [Read More…]
  • Joint Statement by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Department of Justice, and Department of Labor Commemorating the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and its Impact on the American Workforce
    In Crime News
    July 26, 2020, marked the 30th anniversary of the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  This landmark civil rights law protects access and opportunity for people with disabilities across community life, including employment.
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    In Travel
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    In Travel
    Reconsider travel to [Read More…]