A Senate panel approved enhanced protections for the more than 22 million federal workers and retirees affected by data breaches at the Office of Personnel Management Thursday, but opted not to provide additional funds for the embattled agency.
The Senate Appropriations Committee, by voice vote, agreed to adopt more protections for federal workers and retirees whose information was stolen in two breaches at OPM, by attaching a provision to the appropriations bill with jurisdiction over the agency. But lawmakers also opted, by voice vote, not to provide additional money to OPM. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., offered two amendments during the committee's markup Thursday, "Their vulnerability will go on for a number of years," Mikulski said of federal workers affected by the breaches. "They deserve our protection.”
Senators agreed to provide at least 10 years of credit-monitoring services and at least $5 million "in liability protection for related damages" for those affected workers.
OPM has offered three years of credit monitoring services for those affected by the background check breach, and 18 months of credit monitoring for those affected by the breach of personnel records. Those workers would also receive $1 million in identity theft insurance.
But lawmakers whose constituencies include wide swaths of federal workers argued that those protections were not enough. Members from the national capital region, representing the District of Columbia, Virginia and Maryland, introduced the RECOVER Act in July, which stands for Reducing the Effects of the Cyberattack on OPM Victims Emergency Response. The act would include no less than $5 million in identity theft insurance to those affected, as well as lifetime identity theft protection.
Mikulski said in a press release Wednesday that her amendment was based on the RECOVER Act, and the amendment received bipartisan support at the committee markup Thursday.
"What we want are the workers protected, the federal workers that have had their data breached and also perhaps future federal workers who have had their data breached,” said Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., whose information was also compromised in the breaches. A number of congressional staffers were also affected by the breaches.
Boozman, who chairs the appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over OPM, also said he would like to hold additional hearings on the breaches. “It’s not a partisan issue," Boozman said. "This is something that our country has to get straight”
However, Boozman opposed Mikulski's second amendment to allocate an additional $37 million to OPM "for accelerated cybersecurity in response to data breaches."
Boozman said the agency "displayed a lack of managerial competence that no amount of money can resolve.” Though he also noted, "We need to spend whatever it takes to keep this system safe but I also believe this is more than a money problem”
Mikulski acknowledged the managerial concerns, but, she argued, "I don’t want to punish federal employees for whatever management did or did not do.”
Mikulski's argument, however, did not convince the majority of lawmakers on the committee, who opted by voice vote not to provide the additional funds.
Though the additional protections were adopted in the Senate spending bill, it is unclear whether they will actually become law, due to the uncertain future of the appropriations process in both chambers.
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