Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call / AP

FEC to hackers: We’re ready this time if government shuts down

Election regulator learned its lesson in 2013, when Chinese cybervandals waylaid its computer systems

Two years ago, when federal agencies last shut down because Congress failed to fund them, Chinese hackers successfully attacked the computer systems of the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

The nation's political campaign and election regulator found itself powerless against the worst act of sabotage in its history: It had furloughed almost every employee at the federal government's behest.

Since then, the agency apparently has learned its lesson.

If, on Thursday, the government again shuts down, the FEC will have nearly three dozen staffers available, in large part to defend against cyberthreats. Congress, in the meantime, is attempting to advance a last-minute temporary spending measure before Wednesday's 11:59 p.m. deadline.

“There will absolutely be a skeleton crew this time to avoid a repeat of the situation in 2013,” FEC Chairwoman Ann Ravel told the Center for Public Integrity. “We understand it's extremely important for crucial IT staff to be available to ensure the information we maintain is kept safe and not hacked.”

Of the FEC's 327 employees, 294 would be furloughed during a shutdown, according to the FEC's plan for agency operations if the government does not pass appropriations for the 2016 fiscal year.

Alec Palmer, who doubles as the FEC's staff director and chief information officer, will be among those employees who remain on the job.

He would be “authorized to recall to duty any employees necessary to meet unanticipated contingencies related to imminent threats to life or property, including electronic records or data,” the FEC's shutdown protocol states.

He would be aided in part by the acting general counsel, Daniel Petalas, who would also avoid furlough, according to the plan.

Because the FEC is a political committee, its six commissioners — three Republican and three Democratic appointees — would likewise continue working through a shutdown, as they did in 2013.

Among the FEC's primary duties is making publicly accessible millions of records about how politicians and political committees raise and spend money. The presidential and congressional elections in 2016 are expected to easily break spending records.

The FEC is scheduled to conduct a public meeting on Thursday, with its agenda topped by a request from Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, which is seeking clarity on whether valet parking services and food provided at fundraisers count as in-kind contributions.

If the government shuts down, the meeting will likely be postponed.

This story is from the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative media organization in Washington, D.C. Read more of its investigations on the influence of money in politics or follow it on Twitter.

Related News

Cyber Attacks, FEC

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter


Cyber Attacks, FEC

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter