OPM director resigns over hack
The embattled director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has resigned, bowing to mounting pressure from Capitol Hill for her to step aside over a devastating government hack.
Katherine Archuleta stepped down a day after she revealed that multiple breaches at her agency had exposed more than 22 million people’s sensitive information.
President Obama accepted her resignation Friday morning, according to a White House official. Her resignation is effective at the close of business.
"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 and allowing the employees at OPM to continue their important work," Archuleta said in a statement. "Leading this agency has been the highlight of my career."
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Archuleta resigned "of her own volition" and not under pressure from the president.
She realized the agency's leadership "required a manager with a set of specialized skills and experiences,” Earnest said.
Beth Cobert, the U.S. chief performance officer and deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, will assume the role of acting director starting Saturday.
The administration had stood behind Archuleta through this week, with the White House repeatedly insisting it had confidence in the agency head.
As recently as Thursday, Archuleta herself batted off calls for her resignation. "I am committed to the work that I am doing at OPM," she told reporters in a conference call.
But the chorus on Capitol Hill calling for her firing — which had been building since shortly after the breach was first revealed in early June — swelled on Thursday after Archuleta and OPM revealed the stunning sweep of the data breach.
More than 22 million people had their personal information stolen, OPM announced, including 21.5 million people whose sensitive data was taken in a breach of a security clearance database.
The tally also included 4.2 million government workers whose personnel files were stolen in an earlier intrusion. But 3.6 million people were hit by both hacks, putting the final tally at 22.1 million.
In the wake of the revelation, the top three House Republican leaders asked for her ouster, as did Sen. Mark Warner (D), who represents the sizable chunk of the federal workforce that resides in Virginia.
“Director Archuleta’s slow and uneven response has not inspired confidence that she is the right person to manage OPM through this crisis,” Warner said.
Earnest on Firday said he does not know if the president's personal data was compromised in the hack.
"I don’t have information about the president’s personal data," he said. "Even if I did, I am not sure I would share it."
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle had slammed Archuleta for not heeding myriad warnings from her inspector general about glaring security weaknesses in the OPM’s outdated networks.
Archuleta insisted she was taking into account the watchdog’s recommendations both in a long-term plan to modernize the OPM system, and to aggressively patch flaws discovered in a security review following the breaches.
“Their strategic plan and aggressive efforts were failures,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), who was the first lawmaker to call for Archuleta’s resignation, told The Hill. Archuleta's insistence that her plans were anything but failures “is nauseating,” Lieu added.
Archuleta's opponents on Capitol Hill were quick to praise her decision to step aside.
"This is the absolute right call," said House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who led the grilling of Archuleta over two hearings and wrote the White House asking for her firing. "OPM needs a competent, technically savvy leader to manage the biggest cybersecurity crisis in this nation's history."
Chafftez accused Obama of hiring Archuleta based on her stint as national political director for his 2012 campaign. Archuleta had also served as chief of staff and senior aide at three Cabinet-level departments in the Clinton and Obama administrations.
"In the future, positions of this magnitude should be awarded on merit and not out of patronage to political operatives," Chaffetz said.
Cobert, who is taking over OPM amid the furor, started work at OMB in 2013 and has worked to streamline the government’s turgid process for acquiring information technology. She has also worked with the U.S. Digital Service to improve the government’s online services for Americans.
OPM has a huge task ahead as it seeks to limit the fallout from the hack, which compromised information with remarkable espionage value.
“A treasure trove for blackmail,” Lieu told The Hill.
Officials have called China the "leading suspect" in the digital assault. Experts see it as part of Beijing’s broad effort to compile a comprehensive database on all U.S. government workers.
For years to come, China could use the stolen data to imitate officials, launch targeted cyberattacks, or even recruit informants.
“They now have 21 million americans they can go after,” Lieu said.