Congress

Senator wants VA to stop using SSNs

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.)

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.)

A lawmaker on the Senate Appropriations Committee plans to introduce legislation that will force the Department of Veterans Affairs to transition from using Social Security numbers as the identifying numbers within the agency.

"We don't want to put our veterans and their families at the risk of fraud and identity theft, and that's the concern that we are trying to address," Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) told FCW on March 10 after a budget hearing before the committee.

At issue is a complaint of a leak of hundreds of veterans' Social Security numbers by a state agency in Wisconsin. In an Oct. 29 letter to Linda Halliday, acting Inspector General at VA, Baldwin and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.)  requested an investigation of the matter, noting that the state agency "utilizes VA systems, including software and email servers, which include tools to protect veterans' [personal information] from unintended disclosure."

Baldwin got the investigation. But she's also looking to minimize the risk in the future, and planning legislation to change the way the VA uses personally identifiable information in its systems.

"We hope to transition away from using Social Security numbers as the identifying number with the VA," Baldwin told FCW after an Appropriations hearing with VA leadership.

VA Secretary Robert McDonald said that the agency was working toward a data architecture that would make such a move possible.

"We do not have a single data backbone," McDonald said.  "One of the things we have taken on is creating that single data backbone. And that would be a great opportunity to move from Social Security."

Baldwin told FCW she was "encouraged" by the VA's response. "As you can imagine, a shift like this would be a huge undertaking, so to hear at least encouraging signs from the secretary is helpful," she said. "We want to work with the department do this, not against the department."

About the Author

Aisha Chowdhry is a former staff writer for FCW.


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