It’s 2006, do you know where you laptops are?

It’s 2006, do you know where you laptops are?

Maybe they’re under the sofa in the Commerce Secretary’s office? That’s where I usually find stuff I’ve lost (well, not the Commerce Secretary’s sofa. Ours.)

According to a self-audit request by the House Government Reform Committee, the Commerce Department has lost over 1,100 laptop computers since 2001. Whu-huh?! How? Are employees required to reimburse the taxpayers for their carelessness? They should at least be required to explain themselves. At worst they should be fired.

More than 1,100 laptop computers have vanished from the Department of Commerce since 2001, including nearly 250 from the Census Bureau containing such personal information as names, incomes, and Social Security numbers, federal officials said yesterday.

This disclosure by the department was made in response to a request by the House Committee on Government Reform, which this summer asked 17 federal departments to detail any loss of computers holding sensitive personal information.

Of the 10 departments that responded, the losses at the Commerce Department are ``by far the most egregious,” said David Marin, staff director for the committee. He added that the silence of the remaining seven departments could reflect their reluctance to reveal problems of similar magnitude.

Glad to see that federal workers are being so careful with public property and our sensitive information.

I wonder how many laptop computers have been lost by the average company about the size of the Commerce Department since 2001. My guess is that it’s less than 1,100. But then people in the private sector are held accountable for such things.

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  • But then people in the private sector are held accountable for such things.

    I think that is an unfair generalization of the operation of an entire sector based on the behavior of one organization.  I believe you owe countless civil servants (including myself) an apology.

  • “I believe you owe countless civil servants (including myself) an apology.”

    Don’t be too sure. I’ve worked in Washington for 26 years. We just had a gal retire from a position where only she knew access to essential database information. Apparently she put her papers in on short notice and left in a huff, for reasons beyond all of us. Every time someone tries to call her, she doesn’t answer, or she hangs up. We spent the staff meeting this afternoon blathering about what it would take to reason with this poor woman. I reminded my team leader that this person could be compelled to respond as a matter of the public interest.

    Wanna guess how big that went over?

  • Tony: If it were only one organization I might, but newspapers are filled every day with stories of incompetent public servants who get away with stuff no private-sector employee would.

    Yesterday, I read about a toll-taker in Massachusetts whose till was coming up hundreds of dollars short day after day with no explanation. He lifted thousands of dollars before a new administration came in and he got fired. How many others have not been fired?

    A few weeks ago, a Boston Police Department employee was found to have been paid full-time money for months after she moved to Florida.

    Those are just two off the top of my head.

    How many government laptops containing sensitive information has the media reported lost this year?

    A friend used to work in the Department of Agriculture. He said there was an office assigned to compiling reports on subsidized blueberry farming. They produced one report a year and no one knew what they did the rest of the year.

    Shall I go on… and on… and on?

    Everyone knows that in order to get fired from the hackerama you have to display not normal incompetence, but excessive levels of incompetence that embarrass your boss in the media… and then only if you’re not connected to somebody important.

  • Perspective, folks.

    How many laptops did Commerce use since 2001 all told?  The article doesn’t say.  I bet that the Census Bureau’s 250 lost machines is pretty small compared to their total number of laptops. 

    Also, the “loss” of a computer doesn’t necessarily mean that someone took it home illicitly.  I’ve seen cases where a computer gets bought for a project, the project is delayed, and the computer sits in its original box on a shelf for a year.  Some get put into storage and forgotten, or misplaced when somebody moves them from one storage facility to another.  Yes, it’s a waste of taxpayer money, and yes, it’s foolish, but it’s not theft.

    While the improper release of citizens’ data would be a big deal, the value of a five-year-old laptop itself is not enough to justify a huge security effort.