Katherine Archuleta, the chief human resources officer who oversaw arguably the worst data breach in federal history, was ousted Friday, just a day after she insisted she was staying in for the long haul.
She caved to bipartisan pressure from members of Congress who said they’d lost all confidence in her ability to clean up after hackers stole what amount to complete biographies of more than 21 million Americans from the Office of Personnel Management computer systems last year.
“Today’s move by the administration to change leadership at OPM is the right decision, and one that will help to restore confidence in an agency that not only poorly defended sensitive data of millions of Americans but struggled to respond to repeated intrusions,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee.
Ms. Archuleta had suffered through several embarrassing hearings before Congress where she read non-responsive answers from cards prepared by her staff, and where she hinted that the data breach would affect fewer than 18 million people. On Thursday, however, she admitted that more than 21 million complete biographies of applicants for security clearance — including financial and health histories, family trees and other deeply personal data — had been stolen.
Another hack at the same time compromised more than 4 million Social Security numbers.
Ms. Archuleta, in announcing the extent of the hacking, told reporters she felt up to the task of cleaning up the agency, and said the hacks were only discovered because of changes made during her tenure. She was confirmed as director of the OPM in October 2013.
In a statement Friday, she said she had come to believe she was a distraction.
“I conveyed to the president that I believe it is best for me to step aside and allow new leadership that will enable the agency to move beyond the current challenges and allow the employees at OPM to continue their important work,” she said.
Her ouster, however, did not end the questions swirling about the troubled agency, nor did it satisfy congressional critics.
“Not enough,” said Sen. Ben Sasse, Nebraska Republican, who has questioned the OPM’s assurances that it now knows the extent of the hack.
President Obama, who accepted the resignation Friday morning, thanked Ms. Archuleta for her years of “dedicated service.”
Beth Cobert, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, will take over the role of acting OPM director on Saturday.
The White House said Ms. Cobert has led the efforts at OMB “to drive the president’s management agenda to improve how the government operates and ultimately deliver better, faster, and smarter services to citizens and businesses.”
She oversaw the government’s performance, procurement, and financial management offices, as well as the Office of the Chief Information Officer.
“Under Cobert’s leadership, the administration has led successful efforts to improve the management of federal information technology spending, reduce the federal real property footprint, and modernize and improve citizen-facing services through teams like the U.S. Digital Service,” the official said.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the president did not ask for Ms. Archuleta’s resignation.
“She did so of her own volition,” Mr. Earnest said, adding that Ms. Archuleta recognized that the challenges of fixing the problems at OPM “require a manager with a specialized set of skills.”
Mr. Earnest couldn’t say whether the president’s own personal data was hacked during the year-long cyberattack.
“I don’t have information about the president’s personal data,” Mr. Earnest said. “Even if I did, I’m not sure I’d share it.”
Ms. Archuleta had been a teacher and then a top aide to various politicians, serving as chief of staff or senior advisor in several federal Cabinet agencies. But she had little technological experience — a fact that drew harsh criticism from Capitol Hill, which has a renewed focus on cybersecurity after repeated high-profile breaches.
Hispanic-rights groups had fought hard for Ms. Archuleta’s nomination, and celebrated her as the first Hispanic to head the OPM.
But her nomination drew opposition from Senate Republicans who questioned the OPM’s decision-making with regard to Obamacare.
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