Few Americans would argue that the “D” in Washington, DC, might well stand for “dysfunction”—but it’s especially true when it comes to one government agency in particular: the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The FEC has been something of a mess for quite some time, due to partisan infighting among its commissioners and lack of help from Congress or the White House. There are six commissioners and no more than three can be from the same party. But things took a turn for the truly ugly during the government shutdown in October, when Chinese hackers took advantage of federal employees being furloughed, leaving no one around at the FEC to mind its computer network. Indeed, every one of its 339 employees had been sent home. The cyber-attack—possibly the worst act of sabotage in its four-decade history—reportedly crippled the commission’s systems that inform the public about the billions of dollars raised and spent each election cycle by candidates, parties and political action committees.
It would seem the FEC could have done something to prevent the hacking, had its leaders taken an independent auditor’s suggestions months earlier to reduce the network’s “high risk” to being infiltrated. But they didn’t because in their estimation the systems were “secure.”
These days the FEC is anything but secure, whether it’s the damaged computers or the general state of its operations.