VA worker had OK for data later stolen
By HOPE YEN, Associated Press Writer
The Veterans Affairs worker faulted for losing veterans' personal
information had permission to access millions of Social Security
numbers on a laptop from home, agency documents obtained by The
Associated Press show.
Separately, President Bush on Wednesday asked Congress for $160.5
million for credit monitoring for millions of veterans affected by the
May 3 burglary. He proposed tapping dollars set aside but not used yet
for food stamps, student loans and trade assistance for farmers.
The department's documents raise questions as to whether top officials
condoned a practice that led to a theft with the potential to affect
26.5 million veterans and active-duty troops.
VA Secretary Jim Nicholson and others were to testify Thursday before
a House committee investigating the government's largest security
breach involving Social Security numbers.
The documents show that the data analyst, whose name was being
withheld, had approval as early as Sept. 5, 2002, to use special
software at home that was designed to manipulate large amounts of
A separate agreement, dated Feb. 5, 2002, from the office of the
assistant secretary for policy and planning, allowed the worker to
access Social Security numbers for millions of veterans.
A third document, also issued in 2002, gave the analyst permission to
take a laptop computer and accessories for work outside of the VA
"These data are protected under the Privacy Act," one document
states. The analyst is the "lead programmer within the Policy Analysis
Service and as such needs access to real Social Security numbers."
The department said last month it was in the process of firing the
data analyst, who is obviously challenging the dismissal. He has
provided copies of all the documentation which gave him permission to
work outside the office. Apparently the department had 'forgotten'
about giving him that permission.
Embarassed VA officials have claimed the firing was justified because
the analyst violated department procedure by taking the data home;
they also said he was "grossly negligent" in handling sensitive
information. The analyst says not only will he get his job back, he
will get all his back pay if they try to discharge him.
Lawmakers expressed dismay over the latest disclosure. They noted that
the analyst immediately notified his supervisors after the theft from
his suburban Maryland home, but supervisors delayed publicizing the
crime until May 22. Nicholson was informed on May 16.
"The gross negligence in this case are the people above him," said
Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., the acting top Democrat on the house
Veterans' Affairs Committee. "They gave him express permission to take
the information home. When it was stolen, he reported it right away."
The analyst has documented the full chain of events since that time.
"They're trying to pin it on this one guy, but I think it's other
people we need to be looking at," he said.
A spokesman for the VA did not have immediate comment Wednesday.
Separately, the president asked in a letter to House Speaker Dennis
Hastert, R-Ill., for the $160.5 million to help the VA cover the costs
of credit monitoring and fraud watch services.
The money would be taken from programs in the departments of
Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Labor, Transportation,
Treasury and Veterans Affairs whose money would otherwise go unused or
from programs previously set for elimination, according to Scott
Milburn, spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget.
_$20 million from food stamp employment and training.
_$40 million from trade adjustment assistance for farmers.
_$6.7 million from health professions student loans.
_$49.1 million from the program, "Responsible Reintegration of Youthful
_$9 million from "Next Generation High Speed Rail" program.
_$1.4 million from the Bureau of the Public Debt.
_$5.3 million from the Internal Revenue Service.
_$29 million from VA.
Some Democrats said money to pay for veterans' protection should not
come at the expense of other programs.
"It's outrageous to first expose millions of Americans to credit fraud
and identity theft and then to try to cut food stamps, student loans,
and youth programs to pay for it," said Sen. Patty Murray (news, bio,
voting record), D-Wash. "This is a new problem that needs to be solved
with new money."
Nicholson told lawmakers this week that the money would cover
monitoring for about half of the 17.5 million people whose Social
Security numbers were compromised. He said it also would pay for
out-of-pocket expenses ranging from $10,000 to $20,000 for those whose
identities are stolen.
The extent of the identity theft has not yet been detirmined from the
On the Net:
Info for veterans suspecting identity theft: http://www.firstgov.gov or
Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.
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