10Hacking at the Thrift Savings Plan. More than 120,000 employees and other account holders in the government’s 401(k)-style retirement plan had personal information, including Social Security numbers, accessed in what officials called a “sophisticated cyberattack.”
The TSP notified the affected employees and monitored their accounts for suspicious activity. The savings plan said there is no evidence the data was misused. But the attack reflected the government’s ongoing concern over information security incidents that put sensitive data at risk and are likely to keep happening.
9Electronic monitoring of employees. The case of the Food and Drug Administration’s spying on agency scientists who complained about approvals of what they believed were dangerous medical devices opened a window on monitoring of all federal workers.
Government agencies, prompted by the WikiLeaks scandal and concerns over unauthorized disclosures, are secretly capturing a far richer, more granular picture of employee communications. Privacy advocates are citing the potential for abuse. Experts say that personal devices are monitored when they are used to access government communications, although there is debate over whether personal e-mails can legally be caught in the net.
8The disability claim backlog for veterans. An influx of veterans, new rules that make it easier to file claims — including for Agent Orange-related conditions and post-traumatic stress — and growth in the number and complexity of medical conditions that are claimed make this the biggest challenge to government services for veterans.
When President Obama took office in January 2009, the number of pending claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs was 391,127. As of November, it was nearly 900,000. About two-thirds of those have been pending more than 125 days.
The administration has added staff to process the complaints, but it could be years before veterans get speedy service.
7FEMA’s performance after Hurricane Sandy. In its biggest test since Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency got high marks for a relatively efficient response to Sandy, helping thousands of displaced residents. The agency also confronted its own limitations — the bureaucratic hurdles and slow utility companies that the federal government cannot control— and the reality that after a major storm, recovery rarely goes as quickly as victims wish it would.
6Continuing pay freeze. After two years without a raise — although automatic step increases continued — the president and Congress agreed to extend the freeze until a spending plan is passed. The White House made it official last week, issuing an executive order extending the freeze until a stopgap budget lapses March 27.