Officials look to contain FAA information security breach

Agency says it is looking at short- and long-term plans, including offering employees free credit monitoring, to address the problem.

The Federal Aviation Administration is working to stem concerns regarding the agency's disclosure on Monday that a hacker was able to access Social Security numbers and other personal information of 45,000 agency employees and retirees, a senior agency official told lawmakers on Wednesday.

FAA's Acting Assistant Administrator Nancy LoBue told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee she is very concerned about potential identity fraud and that the agency is working on short- and long-term plans to address it.

This includes free credit monitoring, which the Veterans Affairs Department offered employees for one year after a 2006 data breach, LoBue said. "We are committed to doing something, yes," she said in a dialogue with Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., whose district houses 1,500 at-risk employees and retirees at FAA's Tech Center and Atlantic City International Airport's control tower. LoBue agreed to provide the panel with more details within a week.

Transportation Department Inspector General Calvin Scovel told the panel his top concerns about security risks at FAA are both unique to the agency and indicative of broader problems facing federal agencies.

These include hackers tapping into FAA's highly connected system and its increased outsourcing, he said. Scovel's office is working on two audits requested by the committee, including one examining privacy protection of medical records.

Wednesday's hearing focused on a four-year, $70 billion FAA reauthorization bill the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Democratic leaders offered this week to modernize air-traffic control. If it was an indicator, labor issues, as in discussions during the last Congress, will be a major sticking point between the two parties.

This includes requiring FAA and air-traffic controllers to retroactively resolve long-fought wage differences before independent, binding arbitration.

Transportation and Infrastructure ranking member John Mica, R-Fla., called this "one of the big elephants in the room." Republicans see the recession as a reason to oppose making any wage agreement between FAA and the controllers retroactive. Democrats say a retroactive wage agreement is necessary to improve agency morale and help the modernization effort.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has said he will hire an FAA administrator that will quickly resolve the issue. Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Costello, D-Ill., said at the hearing that LaHood has offered someone the job, but he did not identify the candidate.

While the wage talks may be dealt with by the administration, the Democrats' bill also makes it easier for unions to organize workers at FedEx. "This issue has the potential to stop this bill," said Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn.

The House in the 110th Congress approved a four-year FAA reauthorization bill that included both those labor provisions, while earning a veto threat from the Bush administration. But the Obama administration is expected to be far more labor-friendly.

Wednesday's meeting -- which included 18 witnesses -- is the sole hearing in the committee before a markup on the reauthorization bill. Aviation Subcommittee ranking member Thomas Petri, R-Wis., cautioned about moving too fast before the administration offers a proposal or otherwise weighs in. He warned this "may actually prolong the process toward final passage." A Transportation and Infrastructure Democratic spokesman said a markup has not been scheduled but will not occur this month.