Oversight Chairman: Obama Needs to Fire OPM Chief

“I think it’s time for them to resign, and if they don’t, I think the president should fire them,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz said of leadership at the Office of Personnel Management.

National Journal
June 16, 2015, 11:33 a.m.

The chair­man of the House Over­sight Com­mit­tee is ask­ing the lead­er­ship of the Of­fice of Per­son­nel Man­age­ment to resign amid rolling rev­el­a­tions about a massive hack of per­son­al data stored by the agency that has af­fected mil­lions of former and cur­rent fed­er­al em­ploy­ees.

“If they don’t,” Rep. Jason Chaf­fetz said, “I think the pres­id­ent should fire them.”

“If we want a dif­fer­ent res­ult, we’re gonna have to have dif­fer­ent people,” Chaf­fetz, a Utah Re­pub­lic­an, told re­port­ers Tues­day after at­tend­ing a clas­si­fied brief­ing for House mem­bers where OPM of­fi­cials dis­cussed the breach.

Chaf­fetz singled out OPM Dir­ect­or Kath­er­ine Archu­leta and OPM Chief In­form­a­tion Of­ficer Donna Sey­mour, both of whom test­i­fied earli­er in the day be­fore his com­mit­tee about the hack of its sys­tems that of­fi­cials have privately blamed on China. The breach ex­posed the data of at least 4.2 mil­lion in­di­vidu­als, though sev­er­al law­makers have sug­ges­ted it could be far high­er.

Chaf­fetz has held the gavel of the pan­el for six months, but he has earned a repu­ta­tion for be­ing less bom­bast­ic than his fiery pre­de­cessor, Rep. Dar­rell Issa, a Re­pub­lic­an from Cali­for­nia, and less prone to knee-jerk re­ac­tion.

Few mem­bers of Con­gress had come out to pub­licly call for OPM resig­na­tions, but the de­sire was echoed across party lines Tues­day. Earli­er in the day, Rep. Ted Lieu, a Cali­for­nia Demo­crat who holds a com­puter sci­ence de­gree from Stan­ford, con­demned a “high level of tech­no­lo­gic­al in­com­pet­ence” across gov­ern­ment and noted that when oth­er agen­cies are be­set by scan­dal, high-rank­ing of­fi­cials of­ten are forced to step down.

“I’m look­ing here today for a few good people to step for­ward, take re­spons­ib­il­ity, and resign for the good of the na­tion,” Lieu said.

House Home­land Se­cur­ity Chair­man Mi­chael Mc­Caul, a Texas Re­pub­lic­an, said he would wait un­til more in­form­a­tion was known be­fore ask­ing for any resig­na­tions. “Let’s see how the in­vest­ig­a­tion goes,” he told re­port­ers after the brief­ing.

Chaf­fetz and a bi­par­tis­an se­quence of law­makers spent nearly three hours Tues­day la­cer­at­ing Archu­leta and oth­ers for fail­ing to do more to shore up OPM’s cy­ber­de­fenses. Chaf­fetz poin­ted to a lit­any of in­spect­or gen­er­al re­ports is­sued in re­cent years that found the agency’s sys­tems out­dated and vul­ner­able, high­light­ing one is­sued last Novem­ber that called for some data­bases to be taken off­line be­cause they were so in­ad­equate. That re­com­mend­a­tion, in ad­di­tion to sev­er­al oth­ers — such as ad­op­tion of stand­ard en­cryp­tion stand­ards — went largely un­heeded by OPM lead­er­ship, which said Tues­day that it had greatly im­proved cy­ber­se­cur­ity in re­cent years.

Fol­low­ing the pub­lic hear­ing, Archu­leta and oth­er ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials led a clas­si­fied House­wide brief­ing to dis­cuss cer­tain ele­ments of the breach. Though she re­peatedly re­fused to an­swer ques­tions at the pub­lic hear­ing by say­ing cer­tain de­tails were clas­si­fied, Chaf­fetz and oth­er law­makers who at­ten­ded in­dic­ated the clas­si­fied fol­low-up did not yield much ad­di­tion­al in­form­a­tion.

“Quite frankly, I didn’t hear much clas­si­fied in the clas­si­fied brief­ing,” Chaf­fetz said. “There wasn’t a whole lot of in­form­a­tion there.”

When asked if the 4 mil­lion es­tim­ate for the num­ber of im­pacted people was ac­cur­ate, Rep. Jim Langev­in, a Rhode Is­land Demo­crat who co­chairs the con­gres­sion­al cy­ber­se­cur­ity caucus, said, “sig­ni­fic­antly more than that, giv­en what was taken and who else could be af­fected.”

Chaf­fetz also would not pin­point a pre­cise num­ber of in­di­vidu­als im­pacted by the hack, but sug­ges­ted it could bal­loon far high­er. Some re­ports have sug­ges­ted that data for 14 mil­lion em­ploy­ees may have been ex­posed.

“The only thing we know for sure is that it’s more than 4.2 mil­lion,” Chaf­fetz said. “How many more, I don’t know. They would not fess up to that.”

Langev­in said the clas­si­fied brief­ing was not well-at­ten­ded, not­ing that less than a fourth of House mem­bers showed up — though Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi and Minor­ity Whip Steny Hoy­er were spot­ted en­ter­ing the meet­ing. When asked how the U.S. should re­spond to the hack, he said that would be de­cided after the in­vest­ig­a­tion was com­plete.

“I sus­pect that we should take some strong ac­tions against the per­pet­rat­ors,” he said without rul­ing out sanc­tions or a “hack­ing back” re­sponse.

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