Theft of Data Leads to Firings, Moves at VA

By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson announced several personnel changes yesterday that will include the firing of a senior career data analyst who lost the sensitive personal information of millions of veterans.

The 60-year-old civil servant, a GS-14 employee who earns between $91,407 and $118,828 a year, has been notified that he will be terminated, VA officials said. The employee violated department policy by taking home electronic files containing the names, birth dates and Social Security numbers of as many as 26.5 million veterans.

Those records were stolen May 3 from the employee's Aspen Hill home. Thieves took a laptop computer and an external disk drive.

In other changes, Michael H. McLendon, deputy assistant secretary for policy, submitted his resignation Friday and will leave the department at the end of the week. Dennis M. Duffy, who has been acting assistant secretary for policy and planning, was placed on administrative leave yesterday, Nicholson said in a statement.

McLendon, a political appointee who was named to his position in December 2003, supervised the analyst and was told of the data theft within an hour of when the employee reported it to VA officials and to Montgomery County police. Duffy, a career employee who joined the department in 1974, learned of the theft May 5.

But Deputy Secretary Gordon H. Mansfield was not told of the data loss until May 10, and Nicholson was not informed until May 16. Nicholson told the public May 22. The theft is being investigated by the FBI, the VA inspector general and Montgomery County police.

Nicholson attributed the need for the moves to "recent, unacceptable events within VA's Office of Policy and Planning."

He named Paul Hutter, assistant general counsel for management and operations, to temporarily lead the Office of Policy and Planning until Patrick W. Dunne, nominated last week to be assistant secretary for policy and planning, is considered by the Senate.

In his resignation letter, McLendon wrote: "Given that this very serious and tragic event occurred on my watch and in my organization, I feel it necessary that I tender my resignation. I would be modeling the wrong behavior to my staff and others in VA if I took no action to be responsible." The letter was obtained yesterday by the Associated Press and confirmed to The Washington Post by VA officials.

Veterans service organizations and some members of Congress had said they expect several employees and officials to resign or be fired if the department hopes to win back the trust of veterans.

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