Lawmakers take aim, an inspector general claims wrongdoing, an agency offers a vaguely worded defense. Is another leadership change in the works at the Office of Personnel Management?
OPM CIO Donna Seymour is a 37-year federal employee. (Donna Seymour / OPM)
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz on Aug. 6 called on Office of Personnel Management Acting Director Beth Cobert to immediately fire OPM CIO Donna Seymour.
Seymour’s tenure has been grist for speculation since revelations about the massive OPM data breaches that took place on her watch, especially after OPM Director Katherine Archuleta resigned July 10.
Key to the Utah Republican’s latest urging: a damning July 22 letter from OPM Inspector General Patrick McFarland.
In the letter, which McFarland first sent to Cobert before sending it along to Chaffetz on Aug. 3, the IG lays out his “serious concerns” about Seymour’s office and a “culture” that thwarts cooperation.
McFarland noted his intent was “not to accuse any OPM employees of intentional misconduct, but rather to clear the air.”
“Specifically, there have been situations where actions by the OCIO have interfered with, and thus hindered, the OIG's work,” McFarland wrote to Chaffetz. “Further, the OCIO has repeatedly provided the OIG with inaccurate or misleading information, some of which was repeated under oath by former OPM Director Katherine Archuleta and OPM's Chief lnformation Officer at the hearings held by your Committee on June 16th and June 24th.”
In his letter to Cobert, McFarland laid out four specific instances in which the CIO’s office interfered with the IG office’s work, including the CIO’s office’s failure to inform the IG of a new database environment overhaul.
McFarland also laid out five cases of misleading or incorrect information coming from the CIO’s office, though those specifics – two and a half pages worth -- were redacted in the version of the letter published by Chaffetz. (See the whole, heavily redacted letter here.)
OPM issued an official response to Chaffetz, offering a defense of Seymour without ruling out the possibility that she would resign, retire or be fired.
“As Acting Director Cobert indicated in her response to the Inspector General, in her first four weeks at OPM she has observed that the team, including the Office of the Chief Information Officer – working side-by-side with experts from across the Federal government – has been working incredibly hard to enhance the security of our information technology systems and support those who have been affected by the recent cyber security incidents,” read OPM’s statement. “The recent results of the Cybersecurity Sprint demonstrate the progress that has been made, although everyone recognizes there is more to do.”
The response praised Seymour’s work at OPM.
“[S]ince Ms. Seymour’s arrival at OPM in late 2013, OPM has undertaken an aggressive effort to upgrade the agency’s cyber security posture, adding numerous tools and capabilities to its various legacy networks,” the statement said. “These efforts were critical in helping OPM to identify the recent cyber security incidents.”
The statement closed with a recap of Seymour’s accomplishments – but no outright promise that she’ll keep her job.
“Ms. Seymour is a career civil servant with 37 years of Federal service, and has served with distinction—being honored by the Secretary of the Navy with the Distinguished Civilian Service Award, and by Computerworld magazine as a Top 100 Chief Information Officer,” the statement said.
OPM did not respond to a request for comment on the statement.
UPDATE: After publication, an Office of Management and Budget official contacted FCW to affirm that federal CIO Tony Scott supports Seymour.
“Mr. Scott stands by his comments before Senate HSGAC on June 25, 2015,” the official said, referring to a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing in which Scott endorsed both the now-departed Archuleta and Seymour.
“I've talked to [teams working on breach response] about the leadership that they're getting from both director Archuleta and Donna Seymour, and they tell me that they’re very, very supportive of the efforts and the leadership that they see there,” Scott said. “I think we need to be careful about distinguishing firestarters from firefighters in this particular case.”
Of Archuleta and Seymour, Scott said, “[T]hey have my full support.”
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