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VA Shake-Up Follows Identity Theft

Heads are rolling at the VA after the agency's data debacle in which 26.5 million veterans' identities were stolen in a residential burglary.

Gregg Keizer

June 1, 2006

2 Min Read

A U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs deputy secretary involved in the agency's data debacle in which 26.5 million vet identities were stolen will resign as of Friday, the department's chief said this week.

Michael McLendon, who supervised the as-yet-unnamed VA data analyst who took home the data -- which was lost when a laptop and external hard drive was stolen from his home in a May 3 burglary -- will step down, VA Secretary Jim Nicholson said Tuesday.

McLendon failed to notify VA higher-ups of the data loss for nearly two weeks.

Nicholson also announced other house-cleaning moves in the aftermath of the data loss. Dennis Duffy, the Acting Assistant Secretary for Policy and Planning -- the division in which the analyst worked -- has been placed on administrative leave, and the data analyst will be fired.

In Duffy's place, Nicholson temporarily appointed Paul Hutter, who has worked 14 years in the VA, most recently as the Assistant General Counsel for Management and Operations. A permanent replacement, Patrick Dunne, awaits confirmation by the Senate.

Wednesday, Nicholson appointed a special advisor on information security to the Policy and Planning department. Richard Romley, formerly the Maricopa County (Ariz.) Attorney and a decorated Marine veteran, will be responsible for evaluating the current state of VA’s information security procedures and making developing recommendations for improving the agency's security systems.

Last week, Nicholson sent a broadsheet to all VA supervisors stressing the need to keep a lid on veterans' personal information. "I expect each and every one of you to know what sensitive and confidential data your subordinates, including contractors, have access to and how, when and where that data is used, especially in those cases where it is used or accessed off-site," Nicholson directed.

The data breach first surfaced May 22, but the May 3 theft was not reported to Nicholson until May 16.

Last week, Nicholson and other VA officials, including its inspector general, George Opfer, told a Senate hearing how the data was lost and laid out systemic security problems at the agency.

A $50,000 reward for the return of the stolen laptop and hard drive has been posted by the VA and FBI.

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