When a federal government employee's laptop goes missing, the agency of the respective employee often finds itself at the center of the damaging situation, since a lost government-issued laptop could equate to a breach of sensitive data.

But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which focuses on environmental issues such as tackling climate change, improving air quality, protecting U.S. waters and assuring the safety of chemicals, has taken steps to combat such incidents from happening.

The EPA is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and has 10 additional regional offices -- and its IT department oversees 1,500 to 2,000 laptops, tablets and desktops used by employees in offices and in the field at any given time.

So to increase data protection on these devices -- and help the IT department locate the devices should they go missing or are misplaced -- the agency implemented Absolute Software’s Computrace. Once located, IT can analyze if the data had been accessed, and then either freeze it or wipe it from the hard drive remotely, said company spokesman Tim Williams.

If an individual unlawfully obtains a government-issued EPA laptop and deletes data from the device, however, the EPA ultimately has control over the data through Computrace.

Another issue the EPA has struggled with is maintaining compliance with software vendor contracts. The EPA used in-house asset management and asset tracking so that IT was responsible for conducting software and hardware audits manually, but the agency did not know when and if it would exceed a software license limit unless each device was surveyed individually. And the number of active software licenses EPA had at a certain time also was an issue, as was if some licenses were underutilized, could they be reallocated to a new user?

To help simplify the process, the EPA utilized Absolute for auditing devices so the agency can stay ahead of software license expirations to avoid compliance penalties. “If you have 1,000 licenses, the renewal’s gonna be a few bucks,” Williams said.

Through automated tracking, the software monitors when software licenses are due to expire, so the EPA can better decide whether to renew licenses. If the EPA has more licenses than it does active users, the software can help identify how many software licenses are available for reallocation.

The agency can now see which software is loaded on a machine to determine if its maxing out or underutilizing software licenses, said Walter Williams, an EPA desktop technical manager and information specialist, in a statement. “We’ve been able to transfer unused software licenses to users who need them, saving the department from buying additional licenses, allowing those resources to be used on other expenditures.”

The reallocation of software licenses instead of the purchase of additional licenses, according to the EPA, has resulted in a cost savings.

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.