U.S. Personnel Chief Resigns Following Data Hack

Hackers downloaded Social Security numbers, health histories or other highly sensitive data from OPM's databases, affecting more than five times the 4.2 million people the government first disclosed this year.

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The head of the U.S. government's personnel office is resigning following revelations that hackers stole the personal information of more than 21 million people on her watch.

A White House official says President Barack Obama accepted the resignation of Office of Personnel Management Director Katherine Archuleta on Friday morning. She'll stay on the job through the end of the day.

"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," Archuleta said in a statement issued Friday. 

The official says deputy director Beth Cobert will become acting director starting Saturday.

Hackers downloaded Social Security numbers, health histories or other highly sensitive data from OPM's databases, affecting more than five times the 4.2 million people the government first disclosed this year. Since then, the administration acknowledged a second, related breach of systems housing private data that individuals submit during background investigations to obtain security clearances.

Although the government declined to name the hackers, officials said the same party was responsible for both hacks. Numerous U.S. lawmakers who have been briefed on the federal investigation have pointed the finger at China.

Word that the breach was far more severe than previously acknowledged drew indignation from members of Congress who have said the administration has not done enough to protect personal data in their systems, as well as calls for Archuleta and her top deputies to resign. House Republican leaders - Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Whip Steve Scalise  - called for Archuleta's resignation, and Boehner said the president must "take a strong stand against incompetence.''

Even some members of Obama's own party, usually reluctant to criticize the administration, joined the call for Archuleta to go. Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia decried Archuleta for a "slow and uneven response'' that he said had undermined confidence in her abilities.

"It is time for her to step down, and I strongly urge the administration to choose new management with proven abilities to address a crisis of this magnitude with an appropriate sense of urgency and accountability,'' Warner said.

Among the data the hackers stole: criminal, financial, health, employment and residency histories, as well as information about their families and acquaintances. The second, larger attack affected more than 19 million people who applied for clearances, as well as nearly 2 million of their spouses, housemates and others.

Archuleta said the hackers also obtained user names and passwords that prospective employees used to fill out their background investigation forms, as well as the contents of interviews conducted as part of those investigations. But the government insisted there were no indications that the hackers have used the data they stole.

Members of Congress including Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid have said China was behind the attack, and investigators previously told The Associated Press that the U.S. government was increasingly confident that China's government  - not criminal hackers -  was responsible for the extraordinary theft.

China has publicly denied involvement in the break-in.

The administration said it has stepped up its cybersecurity efforts by proposing new legislation, urging private industry to share more information about attacks and examining how the government conducts sensitive background investigations.

"Each and every one of us at OPM is committed to protecting the safety and the security of the info that is placed in our trust,'' Archuleta said. In early June, government employees received notice that OPM would offer credit-monitoring services and identity-theft insurance to those affected.

Meanwhile, the White House waited about a month before telling the public that hackers had stolen the personal information of millions of people associated with the government, people directly involved with the investigation told the AP last month.

"It's a treasure trove of information about everybody who has worked for, tried to work for, or works for the United States government,'' FBI Director James Comey said Thursday, describing the scope of the breach as "huge'' and "a very big deal.''

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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