For businesses collaborating with federal agencies, securing information systems is a top priority. The Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) establishes a framework to ensure the security and integrity of federal data. This Peak Post delves into the essentials of FISMA compliance, its significance, and how businesses can navigate its requirements with the support of professional CPA firms.

What is FISMA

FISMA, a crucial component of federal information security, mandates that federal agencies and their contractors develop, document, and implement an information security program. Compliance with FISMA is essential for businesses handling federal data, as non-compliance can lead to severe penalties and loss of contracts. Adhering to FISMA standards ensures businesses meet stringent security requirements, safeguarding sensitive information and maintaining the trust of federal partners.


FISMA was enacted in 2002 as part of the E-Government Act to address growing concerns over the security of federal information systems. Initially, it set forth a framework for managing information security across federal agencies. The act was updated by the Federal Information Security Modernization Act of 2014, which streamlined reporting processes and emphasized continuous monitoring of security controls. Over the years, FISMA has evolved to keep pace with emerging threats and technological advancements, with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) providing detailed guidelines for compliance.

Here’s why understanding FISMA compliance matters for businesses:

  • Eligibility for Government Contracts: Many federal contracts require vendors to demonstrate FISMA compliance. This ensures that the contractor has robust security measures in place to protect sensitive government data.
  • Building Trust with Government Partners: Compliance signifies a commitment to data security, which fosters trust and strengthens relationships with government agencies.
  • Enhanced Overall Security Posture: Implementing FISMA controls often benefits a company’s overall security posture, protecting all forms of data, not just government-related information.

A Look Back: The Evolution of FISMA

FISMA has undergone significant revisions since its inception. Initially, the focus was on financial controls and preventing fraudulent activity within federal agencies. However, with the rise of cyber threats and the increasing reliance on digital information, the scope of FISMA expanded.

The most significant update came in 2014 with the enactment of the Federal Information Security Modernization Act (FISMA Modernization Act). This update emphasized a risk-based approach, focusing on protecting high-value assets and prioritizing controls based on potential impact.

Understanding FISMA compliance starts with grasping its core requirements. These can be broadly categorized into three main areas:

  1. Risk Assessments: Organizations must regularly conduct risk assessments to identify potential threats and vulnerabilities within their information systems. This proactive approach helps prioritize security efforts and allocate resources effectively.
  2. Security Controls: Implementing security controls is central to FISMA compliance. NIST Special Publication 800-53 outlines specific controls that organizations must put in place, covering areas such as access control, incident response, and system integrity..
  3. Continuous Monitoring: Continuous monitoring involves ongoing assessment and real-time management of security controls. This ensures that any changes in the security environment are promptly addressed, maintaining the integrity and security of information systems.

FISMA Assessment Process

Achieving FISMA compliance involves a structured assessment process. Here’s a simplified breakdown of the key steps:

  1. Preparation: Start by understanding FISMA requirements, the type of government contract being pursued and determining the scope of the information systems involved. Develop a compliance plan that outlines the necessary steps and resources required.
  2. System Categorization: Federal agencies categorize information systems based on the sensitivity of the data they handle. This categorization helps determine the appropriate security control baseline.
  3. Security Control Selection and Implementation: Based on the system categorization and risk assessment, you need to choose and implement relevant security controls.
  4. Assessment and Audit: An independent assessor will evaluate your security controls against the established requirements. This may involve documentation review, interviews, and penetration testing to simulate cyberattacks.
  5. Remediation and Continuous Monitoring: Any identified gaps in controls must be addressed. Continuous monitoring ensures ongoing compliance and identifies evolving threats.

Case Study: The Cost of Non-Compliance

In 2014, a major healthcare provider experienced a data breach that compromised the personal information of millions of patients. The investigation revealed inadequate security controls and a failure to comply with HIPAA regulations, which share some similarities with FISMA. The company faced hefty fines, reputational damage, and ultimately lost millions of dollars in settlements.

This case study highlights the real-world consequences of non-compliance with data security regulations. Understanding FISMA compliance and implementing appropriate safeguards can significantly reduce the risk of such costly incidents.

Common Challenges Faced by Businesses and How to Overcome Them

The road to FISMA compliance can be challenging, but not insurmountable. Here are some common hurdles businesses face:

  1. Complexity of Requirements: The detailed and technical nature of NIST guidelines can be overwhelming, especially for organizations without specialized knowledge in information security.
  2. Resource Constraints: Implementing and maintaining the necessary security controls requires significant resources, including time, money, and expertise. Smaller organizations may find this particularly challenging.
  3. Keeping Up with Changes: The dynamic nature of security threats and updates to compliance standards necessitates continuous adaptation. Staying abreast of these changes can be resource-intensive and requires ongoing attention.

Benefits of FISMA Compliance

Benefits of FISMA Compliance:

  1. Enhanced Security: Implementing robust security controls improves the overall security posture of an organization, protecting sensitive information from unauthorized access and breaches.
  2. Trust with Federal Agencies: Compliance demonstrates a commitment to security, fostering trust and confidence with federal partners. This is crucial for maintaining and securing federal contracts.
  3. Business Opportunities: Many federal contracts require FISMA compliance. Achieving this status can open up new business opportunities and give organizations a competitive edge in the marketplace.

Role of CPA Firms

Navigating the complexities of FISMA compliance can be daunting, but CPA firms play a crucial role in assisting businesses through this process:

  1. Assessment and Documentation: CPA firms can conduct thorough assessments to identify gaps in compliance and help document the necessary controls and processes. Their expertise ensures that all requirements are met comprehensively.
  2. Implementation Support: CPA firms provide expert guidance on implementing NIST security controls, ensuring that businesses meet all compliance requirements. This includes developing policies, procedures, and technical solutions tailored to the organization’s needs.
  3. Ongoing Support: Continuous monitoring and regular audits are essential for maintaining compliance. CPA firms offer ongoing support to help businesses stay compliant with evolving standards, providing peace of mind and allowing organizations to focus on their core operations.


FISMA compliance is critical for businesses working with federal agencies, ensuring the security and integrity of their information systems. While achieving compliance can be challenging, the benefits of a strong security posture, trust with federal partners, and new business opportunities make it worthwhile. CPA firms, with their expertise in assessments, documentation, and ongoing support, are invaluable partners in helping businesses navigate the complexities of FISMA compliance. For any business looking to secure federal contracts and protect their information systems, seeking professional help is a prudent step toward achieving these goals.

By understanding the requirements and leveraging the expertise of CPA firms, businesses can confidently achieve FISMA compliance and enhance their overall security posture.

Please reach out if you would like to learn more about how Audit Peak can assist you with your FISMA compliance or for a free consultation. WE WILL TAKE YOU TO THE PEAK.