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3/2/2012
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GSA Bans Agencies From Sending Electronics To Landfills

Agencies must find environmentally friendly ways to dispose of or recycle PCs, laptops, mobile devices, printers, and other electronics used in federal offices.

The General Services Administration (GSA) has prohibited U.S. federal government agencies from sending office electronics equipment--including PCs, laptops, mobile devices, printers and copy machines--to landfills for disposal.

An agency bulletin released Thursday also bans the feds from sending electronics that are no longer being used to incinerators, as part of an effort to be more environmentally conscious.

"The federal government has determined that improper disposal of used electronics may have potentially harmful effects on human health and the environment," said the bulletin. "This/these electronic product(s) must be disposed of at their end of useful life in accordance with all federal, state, and local laws."

The bulletin makes a number of suggestions to agencies for how electronics should be reused or repurposed. The GSA recommends alternatives such as the reuse of electronics within the agency, transfers to another agency, or donations to state governments or eligible nonprofit organizations or charities.

[ Read about the new updated standards for federal cybersecurity. See Federal Cybersecurity Guidelines Now Cover Cloud, Mobility. ]

It also permits agencies to sell the products to the public, "where any needed repairs minimally impact asset performance or repairs can reasonably be performed by non-technical buyer," the bulletin states.

However, in the case of PCs, laptops, or other such devices, agencies must ensure that whatever data might still be stored on devices is wiped according to standards from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) before repurposing, reusing, or distributing them to the public, according to the GSA.

Agencies should use NIST document 800-88, "Guidelines for Media Sanitization," to ensure they don't leave any information on equipment that leaves the agency.

Indeed, the feds are extremely touchy about data breaches that involve laptops that are released to the public without being sanitized. NASA, for example, was faulted in 2010 for selling laptops to the public without fully scrubbing their hard drives of sensitive data. That agency's inspector general also revealed this week that one of 48 computing devices that went missing from the agency in the two years between April 2009 and April 2011 contained confidential data, including codes for controlling the International Space Station.

If agencies can't securely dispose of electronics items through any of these options, they must be sent to a certified recycler, according to the GSA bulletin, which provides a website link with information about certified recyclers.

InformationWeek and InformationWeek Government are conducting a survey on IT security and cybersecurity in U.S. federal government agencies. Upon completion of our survey, you will be eligible to enter a drawing to receive an Apple 16-GB iPad 2. Take our Federal Government Cybersecurity Survey now. Survey ends March 9.

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