Customer service complaints are piling up about the private contractor the government hired to field inquiries from nervous federal employees whose personal information was hacked in the massive Chinese data breach.
The wait to talk to someone at one of three call centers run by CSID typically runs an hour to three hours, say active and former employees, who are flooding their members of Congress with complaints. When we tried to get someone on the phone late Friday afternoon, a recorded message said the wait would be at least 90 minutes.
The company’s Web site, where the Office of Personnel Management is directing 4.2 million people to sign up for credit monitoring, identity theft insurance and other security protections, also crashes frequently, employees say.
This is not how people already alarmed that their Social Security numbers, life insurance beneficiaries, military service records — and for many, details of their lives they handed over to apply for a security clearance — may be compromised say they had hoped the government would respond.
“I think everybody should know that while they’re trying to fix this thing, they’ve created another mess,” said Robert Berg, a retired IRS revenue agent from Syracuse, N.Y. who was on hold last Thursday for 178 minutes before an identity theft specialist was able to help him.
Berg had tried to sign up for credit monitoring online, but the system wouldn’t let him in, so he dialed the number on the Web site. “I’m a patient person,” he said, “but a lot of older people aren’t going to be able to handle being on hold that long.”
The system also crashed for Paul Pratt, a Defense Department program manager in southeastern Louisiana, who was on hold for two hours with the call center last Friday until someone picked up. “It’s been one gaffe after another from OPM,” Pratt said. Like many employees, Berg and Pratt say were wary of entering their personal information on the Web site of a private contractor to begin with.
CSID is working with Washington-based Winvale Group to provide fraud prevention services for victims of the hack under a $21 mililon emergency contract with OPM. Victims are offered a $1 million identity theft insurance policy in case their identity is stolen, 18 months of credit monitoring and other security protections.
Winvale spokesman Patrick Hillmann said in an e-mail that CSID is “adding and training additional staff to help manage the influx of callers seeking information about the breach and what protections are available to them.” He declined to say if the call center’s hours — now 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday Central time — would expand or how many employees are being added.
He also declined to say if under the terms of the contract with OPM, the government can be charged more for the additional support.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), whose state has one of the largest number of federal employees, contractors and military in the country, warned OPM Director Katherine Archuleta that she needs to hold the contractor accountable.
“Information has come to light that raises questions about OPM’s awarding of this $20 million contract to CSID, and whether CSID has the expertise and capacity to provide the services for which it was contracted,” Warner said in a letter sent Friday.
“As you are well aware, I have a large number of constituents in Virginia who are current, former or retired federal employees, and in the past two weeks, I have heard complaints from many of them about the poor quality of service provided by CSID,” Warner wrote. “My constituents have reported that the Web site crashes frequently, and that the company’s dedicated hotline regarding the OPM breach has incredibly long wait times. Wait times of over an hour are not uncommon. Even as I write, CSID is reporting a wait time of approximately 90 minutes to speak with a representative.”
He pressed Archuleta for more details about how the contract was awarded and raised questions about the bidding process. OPM only gave companies 36 hours to submit a bid and awarded the contract to CSID in under a week.
“According to procurement experts, such a short turnaround time is highly unusual.
“OPM has an obligation to take this threat seriously,” Warner wrote. “The agency’s awarding of this contract suggests, however, that protecting employees exposed by the breach is not the top priority for OPM that it should be.”
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