OPM Director Katherine Archuleta Resigns After Massive Personnel Data Breach

July 13, 2015
In The News

WASHINGTON— Katherine Archuleta, the embattled Office of Personnel Management director, resigned Friday as the backlash grew over her office’s handling of the extensive hacking of millions of federal employee records that included security-clearance details dating back 15 years.

Lawmakers from both political parties had called on her to resign over OPM’s handling of the breach, with some questioning her ability to steer the office through crisis. Her resignation was effective Friday.

On Thursday, Ms. Archuleta disclosed that cyber-intrusions had exposed sensitive data about more than 21 million people, a disclosure that prompted additional Democrats to join Republican lawmakers in urging a change in OPM leadership.

Beth Cobert, the U.S. chief performance officer and deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, will serve as the office’s acting director until a permanent successor is named, a White House official said.

Ms. Archuleta had said as recently as Thursday she wouldn’t step down and would instead work to improve OPM’s network security. On Friday, she told President Barack Obama it was best for her to step aside and allow the office to move forward with new leadership.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Ms. Archuleta was leaving of her own volition. He added that Ms. Archuleta “recognizes, as the White House does, that the urgent challenges currently facing the Office of Personnel Management require a manager with a specialized set of skills and experiences.”

In a written statement, Ms. Archuleta said leading OPM had been the highlight of her career. She didn’t directly address the hack. “I conveyed to the president that I believe it is best for me to step aside and allow new leadership to step in, enabling the agency to move beyond the current challenges,” Ms. Archuleta said.

Ms. Cobert, who begins as OPM acting director on Saturday, has led efforts to improve how the government operates and delivers services, the White House official said. A former director and senior partner at McKinsey & Co., Ms. Cobert also has worked on improving the management of federal information-technology spending.

OPM in June disclosed that 4.2 million personnel records had been stolen in cyberattacks. Officials confirmed this week that the breach was much more extensive and involved more than 21 million Social Security numbers. Hackers likely stole every background-investigation form completed by OPM since 2000—an unprecedented theft officials have said could be used for blackmail or counterintelligence for years.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has pointed to Chinese hackers as the leading suspects. A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington has said the Chinese government and the personnel in its institutions never engage in any form of cyberattacks and called for an end to “unfounded and hypothetical accusations.”

Lawmakers on Friday called for additional steps to prevent future breaches.

House Republican leaders said in a written statement on Friday that Mr. Obama is responsible for repairing any damage to national security. Rep. Ted Lieu (D., Calif.) separately said the security-clearance system should be moved out of the agency.

“The massive security-clearance breach also shows that OPM is not the proper agency to protect the crown jewels of American intelligence,” he said. “OPM was never designed to be an intelligence or national security agency.”

The stolen records include Social Security numbers, fingerprint records and millions of forms with data such as people’s mental-health histories.

The personnel forms exposed include those of senior officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, State Department, Department of Defense, Energy Department and even the Central Intelligence Agency. The White House has declined to say whether the president’s personal information was swept up in the hack.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s building in Washington last month. The agency has been the target of a massive security breach. Photo: Gary Cameron/REUTERS

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said the Obama administration needs to lay out a plan of action to address the issues created by the hack.

“That means showing a resolve to get to the bottom of what happened,” he said. “That means giving the American people renewed confidence in a creaking bureaucracy; and that means pledging to work with policy makers to enact real reforms.”

Ms. Archuleta, who was sworn in as OPM director in November 2013 and who had previously worked in the Obama administration as chief of staff to former Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, had said that she was working to overhaul OPM’s outdated technology infrastructure, and that the process had been expedited in the wake of the breaches.

William Dougan, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, said Ms. Archuleta’s resignation left government workers in a “dire state of uncertainty,” and he called on the administration to get control of the situation.

“The volatility of this situation has escalated exponentially, and we face a void of leadership,” he said. “All the while, millions of federal employees that have had their personal information compromised continue to go without the suite of protections they need and deserve from OPM.”

OPM has announced plans to contract with a private company and provide the millions of people whose records were exposed in the breach three years of identity-theft protection.