By Jonathan Easley - 01/15/14 02:05 PM EST
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, on Wednesday accused the Republican Oversight chairman of recklessly handling sensitive ObamaCare documents.
“Although I understand that your office believes these documents are not sensitive, one was produced to the Committee in encrypted, password-protected format, and both were marked as sensitive documents that require special handling,” Cummings wrote.
Issa spokeswoman Caitlin Carroll called Cummings’ accusation a “false controversy” and a “petty reference” to an instance where staffers moved documents from one room to another in an adjoining suite.
“The committee has carefully handled sensitive technical information describing recognized weaknesses in the website,” she said.
Cummings reiterated his concern that Issa planned to selectively leak confidential information in a way that promotes inaccurate media coverage.
“I also remain concerned with the unilateral release by your office of partial transcripts and select document excerpts to promote partisan narratives that often turn out to be inaccurate, particularly when these releases are not part of any official report, correspondence, or other Committee action,” he said. “Not only is this a disservice to the American people and the goals we share, but it undermines the credibility and integrity of the Committee.”
The Democrat also expressed concern that Issa was sharing the committee’s materials with unknown and perhaps unauthorized outside consultants.
“It is unclear who these outside experts are, who they work for, and who they may be affiliated with, raising concerns about what they may do with the information,” he wrote. “If they do not work for the government or any of its contractors, it is unclear what contractual or other restrictions they are under not to disclose this sensitive information further.”
To address these three areas, Cummings said the Oversight Committee should adopt a “bipartisan protocol to safeguard sensitive information,” “establish procedures for the storage and handling of these sensitive documents,” and inform members of “the identities of outside individuals who have been provided access to this sensitive information.”
Carroll said new security protocols are not necessary.
“The committee is comfortable with the protocols we have utilized to prevent the release of sensitive technical information,” she told The Hill in an email. “We have also told the Minority that they are welcome to consult with us on any questions they have about information they intend to release.”
The long-running Cummings-Issa feud flared anew in January, after the administration allowed the Oversight Committee to review documents from the ObamaCare contractor MITRE Corp. in a secure room, but refused to hand over hard copies to Issa.
MITRE Corp. said the documents included “software code and other technical information that is highly sensitive and could give hackers a roadmap to compromise the security of the website and the personal information of consumers.”
Democrats said Issa couldn’t be trusted with them because he has a history of leaks. Issa eventually obtained the documents through a subpoena.
The Cummings letter comes ahead of a Thursday hearing by the committee on “the internal concerns of information security experts at the Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services consulted about the decision to launch HealthCare.gov.”
Republicans have accused the Obama administration of launching HealthCare.gov without sufficiently testing security flaws they say could leave consumers’ private information at risk.
— This story was upated at 2:53 p.m.