Top OPM tech official resigns under pressure

The top technology official at the federal agency hit by massive hacks last summer has resigned after months of calls from some members of Congress for her firing.

Donna Seymour, the chief information officer at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), was scheduled to testify on Wednesday before the House Oversight Committee about the hacks. The intrusions exposed sensitive information of more than 20 million people, including highly personal security clearance background check forms.

ADVERTISEMENT
“Leaving OPM at this time was a very tough decision for me, but I feel it is in the agency’s best interest that my presence does not distract from the great work this team does every single day for this agency and the American people,” Seymour wrote in an email to her OPM colleagues.

Oversight Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzOvernight Energy: Volkswagen faces another emissions lawsuit Fast and Furious: Are you listening Congress? Dozens of GOP lawmakers staying away from Trump's convention MORE (R-Utah) has been leading the charge to oust Seymour since last June. On at least five occasions, he called for Seymour’s firing via letters to the OPM and White House.

After the news of Seymour’s retirement was revealed, the Oversight panel canceled its Wednesday hearing. It was slated to be Seymour’s first appearance before the committee since it held several grueling hearings in the immediate aftermath of the hacks.

“While I am disappointed Ms. Seymour will no longer appear before our committee this week to answer to the American people, her retirement is necessary and long overdue,” Chaffetz said in a statement.

Chaffetz has long argued that Seymour ignored warning signs from the OPM inspector general about digital security shortcomings that left the networks exposed to hackers.

“On her watch, whether through negligence or incompetence, millions of Americans lost their privacy and personal data,” Chaffetz said.

But other lawmakers were quick to praise Seymour’s work and blast Republicans for scapegoating Seymour in the wake of the data breach.

“During the Oversight committee's work over the past year, we have heard from numerous experts inside and outside the agency who have commended Ms. Seymour for her professionalism, her competence, and her aggressive response to the OPM data breach,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the Oversight committee’s ranking member, in a statement.

“Unfortunately, efforts by Republicans to blame her for the cyberattack on OPM are both unfair and inaccurate, and they set a terrible precedent that will discourage qualified experts from taking on the challenges our nation faces in the future,” he added.

OPM officials have frequently pointed out that the intrusions into its networks would not have been detected without the security updates implemented under Seymour’s direction after she joined the agency in 2013.

Seymour has also been credited with spearheading the agency’s aggressive response to the OPM hacks.

Following the digital intrusions, the OPM strengthened network login requirements, worked to encrypt more portions of its network and put the Defense Department in charge of securing the background check database.

In an email to agency personnel, OPM Acting Director Beth Cobert said Seymour “helped modernize and enhance the security of OPM’s [information technology] systems, revamped the CIO’s office, brought in new talent, consolidated and elevated the role of IT security and worked to obtain the tools, resources and interagency expertise needed to improve OPM’s capabilities.”

Cobert did not reveal who would take over Seymour’s position, saying “we will be in touch shortly about new leadership.”