Embattled OPM CIO steps down

Donna Seymour, CIO for OPM. (August 2015)

Donna Seymour, the embattled CIO of the Office of Personnel Management, has resigned and is leaving federal government.

Seymour had been under intense public pressure to deliver on crucial IT projects in the wake of the hack of OPM that exposed the personal data of at least 22 million Americans.

In a farewell email to colleagues, Seymour called her resignation a "very tough decision" but said it was "in the agency's best interest that my presence does not distract" from official business.  

An FCW investigation found that OPM has struggled to come up with the money it needs for key IT modernization projects spearheaded by Seymour and worth at least $117 million.

A statement by OPM Acting Director Beth Cobert praised Seymour for helping to modernize OPM's IT systems and for having "consolidated and elevated the role of IT security."

After former OPM Director Katherine Archuleta resigned in July 2015, Seymour often bore the brunt of lawmakers' criticism of the agency's handling of the data breach. Seymour was due to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Feb. 24 about the OPM breach in what promised to be another bruising encounter. 

Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who has repeatedly called for Seymour to step down, said her resignation was "good news and an important turning point for OPM." The agency "now needs a qualified CIO at the helm to right the ship and restore confidence in the agency," he added.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the committee, thanked Seymour for her public service and said OPM's IT insecurities were not her fault.

"Unfortunately, efforts by Republicans to blame her for the cyberattack on OPM are both unfair and inaccurate, and they set a terrible precedent that will discourage qualified experts from taking on the challenges our nation faces in the future," Cummings said in a statement.

Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), chairman of the IT Subcommittee, said the next OPM CIO "must have a strong understanding of basic cyber hygiene and the willingness to do what it takes to get this problem fixed."

Federal CIO Tony Scott had backed Seymour in the face of congressional criticism and cautioned publicly that it would be unwise to clean house at OPM because the agency's IT struggles started years ago.

"Throughout her distinguished 37-year career in public service, and most recently at OPM, Donna Seymour led successful efforts to modernize and enhance the federal government's cybersecurity and elevate the critical importance of IT security. Indeed, it was because of Donna and her team's actions that OPM identified the cyber breach of its systems. In the subsequent weeks and months, they worked tirelessly to remediate the situation and embarked on the hard and necessary work to further improve the state of IT at OPM.  We are in a significantly better place today because of Donna," Scott told FCW in an emailed statement.

Seymour's federal career began in 1978 and has included stints as acting deputy assistant secretary of Defense and associate CIO at the Transportation Department.

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is an FCW staff writer covering defense, cybersecurity and intelligence issues. Prior to joining FCW, he was a reporter and editor at Smart Grid Today, where he covered everything from cyber vulnerabilities in the U.S. electric grid to the national energy policies of Britain and Mexico. His reporting on a range of global issues has appeared in publications such as The Atlantic, The Economist, The Washington Diplomat and The Washington Post.

Lyngaas is an active member of the National Press Club, where he served as chairman of the Young Members Committee. He earned his M.A. in international affairs from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and his B.A. in public policy from Duke University.

Click here for previous articles by Lyngaas, or connect with him on Twitter: @snlyngaas.


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