Wednesday, July 19, 2006; A17
The Bush administration has decided not to offer free credit monitoring to 26.5 million veterans and military personnel whose personal information was on computer equipment stolen from the home of a Department of Veterans Affairs analyst in May.
Rob Portman, the White House budget director, wrote House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) yesterday withdrawing the administration's request for $160.5 million to pay for a year of free credit monitoring and citing the June 28 recovery of the stolen laptop and external hard drive by police. The FBI said it had a "high degree of confidence" that thieves had not accessed the files containing the names, Social Security numbers and birth dates of millions of veterans and active-duty military personnel.
"On the basis of the FBI's analysis, the administration has concluded that credit monitoring services and the associated funding will no longer be necessary," Portman wrote.
The theft of VA data occurred at a VA data analyst's home May 3 but was not disclosed to the public until three weeks later, prompting outrage among veterans afraid they might become victims of identity theft.
VA spokesman Matt Burns said yesterday that the department still plans to hire a company to study whether any veterans are having problems with identity theft as a result of the data breach. "It is considered highly unlikely by the FBI and law enforcement that this data was accessed, and data breach analysis will provide additional assurances," Burns said in a statement.
Lawmakers are developing legislation to require federal agencies to notify Congress of security breaches and to provide free credit monitoring if an analysis shows it is likely sensitive personal information was compromised.
Some veterans advocates said canceling the credit monitoring was a mistake because it is still possible that veterans are at risk of identity theft. "To say the least, we're outraged that the administration would renege on their offer," said Robert E. Wallace, executive director of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. "The letter from OMB says the FBI has a 'high degree of confidence' -- that's not 100 percent. The government made a mistake. The government owes it to veterans to make them whole."
-- Christopher Lee