By Alexa Corse
The federal agency responsible for setting election security standards is grappling with key leadership vacancies and inadequate funding, a new report by a government watchdog office has found.
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission, which is focused exclusively on the voting process, is struggling to help state and local officials bolster the security of their voting systems, the agency's inspector general said in a report released Wednesday.
The commission has sought to promote cybersecurity best practices and to serve as a central resource for state and local governments, which have the primary responsibility for administering elections. But the inspector general's report says that the commission's efforts are faltering amid staffing shortages and years of budget cuts.
Two of the agency's most senior officials -- the executive director and general counsel -- stepped down last month, and the agency has begun looking for their successors, the report said.
The agency's acting executive director and chief information officer, Mona Harrington, said in a letter to the inspector general dated Monday that the agency "concurs" with the findings about its troubles.
"Investment in the EAC to support effective and secure elections and the funding of programs can no longer be ignored," Ms. Harrington wrote in the letter. "We are hopeful that the president and Congress can work together to acknowledge the importance of the EAC's mission and adequately fund the commission going forward."
The commission had to set aside plans to hire its own cybersecurity expert because of a lack of funding, the report said.
The Trump administration repeatedly has pledged a "whole-of-government" effort to defend against election interference. Democrats have criticized President Trump and congressional Republicans for what they perceive as not prioritizing the issue and blocking legislation that would mandate stricter standards and boost federal funding.
The White House didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Election officials say that they are better prepared than three years ago, when U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian hackers and internet trolls sought to disrupt the 2016 U.S. presidential election and boost Mr. Trump's campaign.
U.S. officials have said that no votes were manipulated in 2016. Moscow has denied interfering in the election.
National security agencies, along with state and local governments, have rolled out election-security initiatives, including increased information-sharing about cyber threats and major purchases of more secure voting machines.
The Election Assistance Commission, which is an independent agency with bipartisan leadership, was founded to promote best practices for election administration after ballot-counting problems plagued the 2000 U.S. presidential election.
In 2019, the agency sustained a cut to its budget for salaries and administrative tasks, which lowered the budget to $7.9 million from $8.6 million the year before.
On Monday, more than three dozen Democratic lawmakers released a letter calling for more funding for the commission.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 21, 2019 19:45 ET (00:45 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.