Katherine Archuleta, Director of the Office of Personnel Management, has stepped down from her position in the wake of two major security breaches last year. According to some estimates, the two security breaches exposed the personal information of at least 22.1 million people.
China is said to be behind the breach, but it doesn’t really matter who is behind it. It could be pimple-faced kids on TOR in a basement, selling Social Security Numbers to kiddie porn vendors. The fact is, it’s not hard to get our government’s data.
Archuleta had resisted stepping down, but finally told her staff in an email on Friday morning, “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.”
In other words, Katherine Archuleta dove under the bus for the team. Interestingly, OPM’s chief information officer, Donna Seymour, is not going anywhere.
Consider this: Katherine Archuleta had only been on the job at OPM for 17 months when she left. The breaches happened last year. When she was first confirmed for the position, she announced as a priority the replacement and upgrading of the government’s “antiquated computer systems.”
Even as she was run from the building, Archuleta was screaming that it was the government’s “legacy” computer systems that were to blame for the problem, and that she had been trying to fix the issue all along.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that Archuleta resigned “of her own volition.”
“The president thinks 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. There are significant [cybersecurity] challenges that are faced not just by the federal government, but by private-sector entities as well. This is a priority of the president.”
Anyone who has ever stood in a DMV, applied for Food Stamps, or served in the United States military knows this is an utter crock.
Have you ever seen a government employee boot up a shiny, new computer to handle your case, only to open up a small window on the desktop that won’t take mouse input, has green characters and a black background? The poor worker curses and bangs on the Tab key, hitting Function buttons to open more windows for each task.
That is a “legacy” system laid over top of a slick new computer. It’s old, it probably goes down a lot, and everyone hates it. “Legacy” means it’s old crap grandfathered in from six administrations ago, and you’re stuck with using it. No one dares shut everything down to migrate all that data to new systems. So they keep patching it, keep bridging it to new versions of Windows.
It’s not just our government that uses this. Call centers all over the country do it too, especially if they do any government contract work. Managers gripe about it, but make they do because, hey, what else can you do? Everyone before you made it work. You find a way to duct tape that thing and make it work, or we’ll find someone who will.
So what can we do about this, besides keep firing more Archuletas in symbolic swipes at change?
How about this common sense step for starters? Stop putting everyone’s Social Security Number on every damn piece of paper that the government wants.
Indeed, be smart about what information is put together with other information. One government form, called SF86, is used to catalog every fact about a government employee, military personnel, TSA agent, or contractor that even remotely hopes to do business with the US government.
Split that stuff up. Put it in different places. Why is it that corporations know to do this, but the U.S. government is still running on DOS window programs?
Here’s another idea: Get the next Katherine Archuleta replacement a Deputy to help her fix all this stuff. There has been no Deputy Director in that office for months because their confirmations are held up in Congress.
Besides, this is not just an OPM problem. It is a government-wide problem. OPM is just where all the Social Security Numbers bottleneck through.
Katherine Archuleta was a token face thrown under the bus. Until the very systems she screamed about are fixed, you can leave the bus running to cart away each successor who has the crap luck to take her job.