Congress to quiz top VA officials

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson and VA Inspector General George Opfer can expect tough questioning July 20 when they appear before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee to explain the department’s handling of the theft of a laptop PC and hard drive from an employee’s home and the potential compromise of some 26.5 million personal records.

VA officials “acted with indifference and little sense of urgency” in dealing with the theft, according to Opfer’s report. Nicholson will also testify at a House hearing July 18.

Lawmakers and some veterans groups are concerned despite the recovery of the stolen items June 28. An FBI forensic exam indicated that the personal records most likely had not been accessed or compromised.

Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), the committee’s chairman, called the hearing after the release of Opfer’s 68-page report last week.

Craig called the IG report “a stinging indictment of a security system that was lax to nonexistent.” He said he wants top-ranking officials “to spell out exactly what they have done and what they intend to do to protect the data of our nation’s veterans.”

Committee spokesman Jeff Schrade said senators want to find a way to avoid future security lapses and provide veterans with some form of protection against data theft. The panel will seek a fuller account of what the VA is doing to prevent another “dumb thing that ought not happen,” he said.

The IG’s report particularly criticized Michael McLendon, former deputy assistant secretary for policy at the VA, and his superior, Dennis Duffy, former acting assistant secretary for policy, planning and preparedness. Both men have since left the department.

McLendon rewrote the employee’s account of the incident in “an attempt to mitigate the risk of misuse of the stolen data,” the IG’s report states. McLendon learned of the theft May 3, told Duffy of his intention to rewrite the employee’s account and submitted the revised version to Duffy on May 8, according to the report.

McLendon also claimed a software program protected the stolen data by making access difficult. “This, however, was not the case,” the report states.

The IG’s office also blamed Duffy for failing to perceive the importance of the incident and not talking to the employee personally.

McLendon and Duffy bear responsibility “for the impact that their strained relationship, which both acknowledged,” may have had on their response to the incident, the report states.

The report also criticizes John Baffa, the VA’s deputy assistant secretary for security and law enforcement, and Thomas Bowman, the VA’s chief of staff, for their slow response.

The IG’s probe determined that 12 days after receiving an incident report on the theft, the VA Security Operations Center, which is responsible for assessing and resolving information security incidents, had made no meaningful progress in assessing the magnitude of the event.

Nicholson responded to the report by assuring lawmakers that the VA has begun efforts to improve its information and cybersecurity programs.

“VA remains unwavering in its resolve to become the leader in protecting personal information, training and educating our employees in best practices, and establishing a culture that always puts the safekeeping of veterans’ personal information first,” he said.

Jim Mueller, commander in chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, called the theft and the VA’s handling of it the worst crisis in the department’s history.

He was also critical of Nicholson’s proposed year of free credit-monitoring services for veterans whose personal data might have been compromised. Mueller said that until government and industry determine that the unencrypted data wasn’t compromised, “no veteran or military member should have to spend one dime to monitor their credit file because of a mess they didn’t create.”

VA employee conducted his own research

The Department of Veterans Affairs employee whose laptop and external hard drive were stolen was conducting a self-initiated, unofficial project without his supervisors’ knowledge, according to a report from the VA’s inspector general.

The employee, whose name has not been released, had authorization to access veterans’ personal data at work, but he should not have taken home the personal data of more than 26 million veterans, service members and their families. Supervisors told the IG they would not have authorized the employee to take home such large amounts of VA data.

He has been placed on administrative leave and could lose his job.

The report faults the employee for using poor judgment and failing to encrypt the data or use a password to protect it. “The serious error in judgment is one for which the employee is personally accountable,” the report states.

— David Hubler

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.