Katherine Archuleta, the director of the Office of Personnel Management, has resigned from her post amid a cascading scandal over her handling of a massive breach of federal employee data.
Archuleta, who has been at the helm of OPM since November 2013, submitted her resignation Friday morning.
OPM announced Thursday that the size of a hack that began last year led to the pilfering of sensitive personal information of 21.5 million former and current employees. That admission, following weeks of scrutiny on Capitol Hill after OPM acknowledged a separate data breach that affected 4.2 million, led to a rush of lawmakers who called for her ousting, including the top three House Republicans and Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Officials have privately linked both data breaches to China.
Beth Cobert, the deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, will take over Archuleta's job on an interim basis. The OPM director position must be confirmed by the Senate, and the Obama administration will have to grapple with a Republican-controlled Congress that is deeply skeptical about the agency in order to approve a permanent replacement.
"Today I informed the OPM workforce that I am stepping down as the leader of this remarkable agency and the remarkable people who work for it," Archuleta said in a statement. "This morning, I offered, and the President accepted, my resignation as the Director of the Office of Personnel Management. I conveyed to the President that I believe it is best for me to step aside and allow new leadership to step in, enabling the agency to move beyond the current challenges and allowing the employees at OPM to continue their important work."
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Friday that Archuleta offered her resignation "of her own volition.
"That's precisely why the president accepted her resignation," Earnest said.
The data breach compromised 19.7 million individuals' Social Security numbers, and the remainder of the affected individuals—1.8 million people—were family and friends. In addition to Social Security numbers, the stolen information included employment history, financial and health history, addresses, and even fingerprints. The hack announced Thursday occurred at roughly the same time as another hack, which OPM announced in June. That data breach affected 4.2 million current and former federal workers, 3.6 million of whom were also affected by the larger breach.
Archuleta had remained resolute in the face of withering scrutiny, and the White House had expressed support for her as recently as Thursday. When asked on a press call if she would step down, Archuleta said "no" and credited her agency with improving its cybersecurity since she had taken over.
"It is because the efforts of OPM and its staff that we've been able to identify the breaches," Archuleta said.
But on Friday, Earnest said the agency is in need of a change. "It's quite clear that new leadership with a set of skills and experiences that are unique to the urgent challenges that OPM faces are badly needed. That accounts for the acting director that the president has appointed."
Archuleta served as a national political director for President Obama's reelection campaign. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a GOP candidate for the White House, had taken to referring to her as a "political hack" who needed to be removed.
Warner, who represents thousands of federal workers living in Northern Virginia, said Friday, "This is the right move for the agency and all those affected by the breach."
Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Archuleta's removal was the "right decision, and one that will help to restore confidence in an agency that not only poorly defended sensitive data of millions of Americans but struggled to respond to repeated intrusions."
"This change in leadership is also an acknowledgement that we cannot simply place blame on the hackers, but need to take responsibility for the protection of personal information that is so obvious a target," Schiff added.
Rep. Ted Lieu said in a statement after Archuleta's resignation that the OPM should not be in charge of storing background-check data. "OPM was never designed to be an intelligence or national security agency," the California Democrat said. "We should not be trying to fit a square into a round hole. That's why Congressman Steve Russell and I are working on legislation to move the security clearance system out of OPM."
OPM said Thursday it would notify the 21.5 million individuals affected by the larger hack, and offer them at least three years of comprehensive credit monitoring and fraud-protection services at no cost. But the agency does not yet have a contractor in place to provide the services.
This story has been updated.
Rebecca Nelson contributed to this article
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.