OPM Director Resigns After Breaches, but the Real Work Remains

NEWS ANALYSIS: Katherine Archuleta's resignation as the director of the Office of Personnel Management is a necessary step, but it doesn't solve the problem of inadequate security or inept management.


The news from the Office of Personnel Management on July 10 was something most people in Washington were looking for. The director of the office, Katherine Archuleta, announced that she was stepping aside in the wake of a series of increasingly dismaying revelations of breaches into OPM's data systems. Initially the agency announced that as many as 4 million records had been accessed. Then another breach was announced with perhaps another 10 million records accessed.

The numbers continued to get worse. And on July 9, the agency revealed that 21.5 million background investigations had been breached, in addition to the initial 4 million records. With that announcement, any remaining support for Archuleta in Congress evaporated. At that point the outcome was inevitable, and fortunately Archuleta didn't prolong the agony.

As refreshing as it may be to see a member of the administration accept accountability for their actions, it's only the first step in solving OPM's problems. And while the resignation of the director was essential, the real work remains to be done.

What's sad about the whole affair is that the mess does not lie solely with Archuleta. While she was in charge of the department, it was President Obama who nominated a person who was totally unqualified to manage an agency that had as a primary function the operation of several massive databases. In addition, it was Congress that when faced with the job of confirming a person who was unqualified, confirmed her anyway.

In addition, I feel compelled to add that it was the same Congress that has consistently underfunded the security necessary to protect the millions of personnel records that are now breached. And yes, it's the same Congress that will now spew forth histrionics blaming everyone but themselves as they attempt to shift the blame from where it rightly lies, which is at that body's doorstep.

When Archuleta took office, despite her lack of experience in managing large, data-intensive organizations, she was astute enough to see that OPM was suffering from years of inadequate funding and inept management. To suggest that the old COBOL-laden mainframes were legacy systems was an understatement, but she did recognize that, and she promised to launch an effort to update those systems.

But the truth of government in the United States is that managers in the executive branch can only work with what Congress will give them, and when OPM's budget is cut so far by a hostile Congress that the agency can barely keep the lights on, then it is Congress that must shoulder much of the blame for this breach.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...