The Government Printing Office (GPO) can't locate at least 88 laptops issued to employees, some of whom had access to sensitive information about the e-Passport.
Most of the missing laptops involved the agency's Information and Technology Services division and some of the losses may have exposed sensitive information about the vulnerability of the e-Passport supply chain.
"The failure to adequately account for laptops may have resulted in the inadvertent exposure of sensitive GPO business information about acquisitions and human capital, as well as the manufacture and issuance of security documents such as U.S. passports," the inspector general reported.
The passports store biometric information on tiny computer chips designed to validate the true identity of passport holders, and then transmit the data to U.S. officials at customs checkpoints using a tiny radio antenna. Even the photograph is digitized. The aim is to prevent tampering or unauthorized reading of the data
Security specialists -- including some within the GPO -- worry that if criminals or terrorists gain access to e-Passport components, they could clone a passport and foil the electronic security system.
GPO said this summer that it had planned to move all of the Thailand component production to a plant in Minnesota by August.
GPO spokesman Gary Somerset said Tuesday the agency completed the transition to Minnesota in mid-September, and the agency was taking steps to address the concerns about the laptops.
"GPO has a process of turning in used laptops to the agency's IT department to have the hard drives erased or destroyed. However, the IG report noted the agency needs a better inventory control system once a laptop has been re-issued or destroyed. GPO is working on procedures to implement such a system," he said. "Also, there is no evidence to indicate any sensitive information has been compromised," he added.