VA committee marks up data protection bill

The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee marked up today the Veterans Identity and Credit Security Act of 2006. The legislative action follows two months of hearings on the theft of sensitive information on 26.5 million veterans, military personnel and their families.

H.R. 5835 would require the VA to compensate veterans and other individuals whose personal information is compromised by offering credit-protection and fraud-resolution services.

“Congress has acted to protect our veterans,” said Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.), committee chairman, in a statement the committee released.

He said the legislation seeks to correct the mismanagement that led to the theft in May of a VA employee’s laptop computer and hard drive containing service veterans and employees’ personal information. He said the changes provide the department with “a definite course of action to follow should a data breach occur in the future.”

The bill also would create a VA undersecretary of information services, who would be the department’s chief information officer, according to the statement. In addition, it creates three new deputy undersecretaries for security, operations and management, and policy and planning. All three would report to the new undersecretary.

“The creation of the undersecretary position, who will have its responsibilities defined under the Federal Information Security Management Act, leads to a more straightforward and streamlined chain of command,” Buyer said. “This in turn will work to ensure that definitive guidelines are created and followed in all areas of VA information technology.”

“While we cannot fully change the culture of an organization through mandate, we can affect that culture, instill more responsive policies and, hopefully, engender better management,” said Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.), the committee's acting ranking member.

He said he was pleased that the committee approved a strong, bipartisan bill that “will respond effectively to the cavalier manner in which veterans’ information has been secured, accessed, downloaded and passed around, especially in the recent past.”

The bill also creates as many as five scholarships a year for students who will pursue a doctoral degree in information security, computer engineering or electrical engineering. Recipients would be required to work at the VA for at least two years for every year of tuition paid.

The bill now goes to the full House for consideration.

About the Author

David Hubler is the former print managing editor for GCN and senior editor for Washington Technology. He is freelance writer living in Annandale, Va.

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