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Unions to Uncle Sam: Extend Credit Monitoring, Cover Losses Related to Data Breach

Government has obligation to further help millions of employees affected by massive security lapse, advocates say.

Federal employee advocates are calling on the Obama administration to make credit monitoring permanent for all federal employees and recompense them for losses related to the massive cybersecurity breach at the Office of Personnel Management.

The International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers this week said it “remains very concerned with the potential personal and professional ramifications for years to come from this catastrophic security breach. We believe that the federal government has an obligation to do far more than has already been done, or [it] has said will be done, to assist federal employees and their families as they navigate through this very difficult situation.”

The union sent letters to the directors of OPM and the Office of Management and Budget, as well as to the leadership of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, asking the panel to introduce legislation making credit monitoring permanent for federal workers and extending those services to their families, and providing retroactive loss coverage for any security lapses dating back to January 2013.

IFPTE also wants the administration and Congress to block the use of credit scores “as the sole basis for denying or revoking security clearances.” The National Treasury Employees Union echoed IFPTE’s calls for extending credit monitoring and identity theft protection beyond the 18 months OPM is offering after the personal information of millions of federal employees, retirees, and prospective federal workers was exposed during what’s being called one of the worst hacking incidents of a government system to date.

“The agency has yet to identify everyone who may have been affected or disclose what information was compromised and to what extent,” the union said in submitted testimony for a Tuesday Senate subcommittee hearing on the issue. NTEU President Colleen Kelley said “that uncertainty is creating widespread confusion and anxiety for federal employees.”

During Tuesday’s hearing – one of several scheduled on the breach -- OPM Director Katherine Archuleta told lawmakers that the credit monitoring OPM is providing now will cost between $19 million $21 million.

The American Federation of Government Employees also requested that the administration provide free lifetime credit monitoring to affected feds. “Since the breach may have been affecting them for a full year before being disclosed by OPM and will potentially affect them throughout their lives, the 18 months offered is completely inadequate,” the union said in a statement.

There were two separate security breaches at OPM going back about a year, which have become public in the last month. OPM began mailing letters to some 4.2 million current and former federal employees last week alerting them that their personal information may have been compromised and offering credit-monitoring services. On Monday, CNN reported that hackers may have stolen the personal data of as many as 18 million people from OPM records – four times as many as OPM’s original estimate.

CSID, the company OPM tapped to provide credit monitoring to the millions of current and former federal employees affected by the recent data breach, is hiring more workers to staff a call center created to answer questions about the hack. Federal employee groups have complained about excessive wait times and the services OPM has contracted CSID to offer, calling them inadequate.

Archuleta, whom some have said should resign, was vague during Tuesday’s Senate hearing on what the agency is specifically doing to remedy the security failure and to prevent future attacks. In addition to notifying employees about the breach and their exposed data, “we are examining what are the remedies and protections we must put in place,” she said. Archuleta said that although OPM has taken “significant” steps to secure personnel data, “it is clear that OPM needs to accelerate these efforts.” The director emphasized that the agency discovered the breaches as a result of its efforts to improve cybersecurity.

“OPM will do everything in its power to protect the federal workforce,” she told lawmakers, who were polite but repeatedly reminded Archuleta of the complaints and concerns they are fielding from their constituents over the security breach.

“It’s so important that we try to get information to those who have been affected,” said Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government.

GOP presidential contender and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush waded into the fray this week, calling on Archuleta to resign and referring to her as a “political hack,” according to a June 23 report in The Washington Post.

(Image via  / Shutterstock.com)

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