It’s crucial in contract language when managing federal systems or data and is required for institutions dealing with the US Government. FISMA points to the federal agencies to leverage the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) special publications (SP) for implementing secure systems. FISMA also requires that each federal agency define a budget, issue an accreditation decision, and certify that the system is operating as intended and securely. One additional requirement of FISMA is the requirement to document the Plan of Action and Milestones (POAM/POA&M). The POAM identifies the status of the security control, as being implemented, not applicable, partially implemented or planned. As well as identifies the cost considerations associated with the implementation of the control. 

FISMA established that all United States federal entities leverage the NIST Special Publication 800-53 Recommended Security Controls for Federal Information Systems (NIST SP-800-53) for their information systems. Upon release, the Department of Defense established DIACAP but shifted to NIST RMF, a publication known for its controls as a way to better manage risk across a portfolio of systems. DIACAP was specific to the Department of Defense; other agencies within the United States would leverage their own version of the NIST SP-800-53 controls. As an example the Centers for Medicated and Medicare Systems (CMS) leveraged the CMS Acceptable Risk Safeguards (ARS). Even within the DoD, each branch of the armed forces would develop its own instance of the DIACAP, with the Air Force leveraging the Air Force Certification and Accreditation Program in Air Force Instruction 33-210 and the Navy and Marines leveraging the Department of the Navy 5239.3 Cybersecurity manual.

The previous processes for implementation of a system required that the security controls were to be assessed and then signed-off by a certification authority. The Certification Authority (CA) would then identify the residual risk associated with the system, and then coordination with the Designated Accrediting Authority (DAA) to accept the residual risk with an Authority to Operate (ATO), reject the risk with a Denial of authority to operate (DATO), or conditionally accept the risk with an Interim Authority to Operate (IATO or a conditional (CATO).





Additional Information:


FISMA, enacted in 2002, serves as the foundation for information security within the U.S. federal government. Its primary objective is to ensure the protection of federal information, operations, and assets against various threats.

How to Apply:

FISMA applies to federal agencies, departments, and any entities operating or supporting federal information systems. Compliance is mandatory for these organizations to establish and maintain effective information security programs.

Key Elements:

  • Risk Management: FISMA emphasizes a risk-based approach to managing information security, requiring agencies to identify, assess, and mitigate risks to their systems and data.
  • Security Standards: It mandates compliance with security standards outlined by NIST 800-53 Security and Privacy Requirements for Federal Information and Information Systems.
  • Makes Reference to other NIST Documents, such as the Management of Cryptography, managing identities, security requirements for cloud systems.
  • Continuous Monitoring: Agencies must continuously monitor their systems and services to detect and respond to security threats effectively.

Compliance and Implementation:

  • Organizations subject to FISMA must develop and implement security programs that align with its guidelines, employing risk assessment, security controls, and continuous monitoring to ensure compliance.


  • FISMA compliance is critical for federal agencies to maintain their credibility and ensure the protection of sensitive information. It also influences contractors and entities working with federal systems, as compliance is often a contractual requirement.


FISMA, being a cornerstone of federal information security, establishes a framework for safeguarding sensitive government data and systems. Its adherence is paramount for maintaining the integrity and security of federal operations.

Applicability: Relevant in federal systems management, contract language, cybersecurity compliance, and control implementation.

URL: FISMA Definition

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