By Megan Cassella
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee said on Thursday the director of the Office of Personnel Management should not be allowed to stay in place to deal with the aftermath of a data breach by suspected Chinese hackers.
"I wouldn't rely on her to clean up this mess," Republican Senator Ron Johnson said of Katherine Archuleta after a committee hearing in which her answers failed to satisfy lawmakers. "I don't think she's qualified to do so."
In the meeting, committee members pushed Archuleta for details on the widespread security breach, including how many Americans might have been affected and where the attacks originated. Though the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies have said the attack, which was detected in April, could have affected as many as 18.2 million Americans, Archuleta said that number was "preliminary, unverified and approximate."
Archuleta, who has testified in at least three public hearings in Congress this week, repeated previous statements that personnel data of 4.2 million current and former federal employees was compromised in one security breach. She acknowledged that another attack, targeting those applying for security clearances, affected many millions more, but she would not give a more specific answer.
In response to questions regarding whether she had met with FBI officials to discuss the 18.2 million estimate, Archuleta said while her associates had done so, she had not.
Many members of Congress have been clamoring for Archuleta's resignation since U.S. officials announced early this month that hackers had broken into OPM computers and the data of millions of current and former federal employees had been compromised.
OPM press secretary Samuel Schumach said Archuleta has taken the responsibility of securing federal employee data "very seriously," and she is committed to continuing to evaluate and improve security systems.
The White House has said Archuleta, who has held her office for about two years, has the president's support.
OPM Inspector General Patrick McFarland, when asked at the hearing about whether he was confident in the agency leadership's ability to resolve security issues, said: "I believe that the interest and intent is there. But based on what we've found, no."
U.S. officials have said they suspect the data breaches are connected to China, but the administration has not yet publicly accused Beijing. China denies any involvement in hacking U.S. databases.
(Reporting by Megan Cassella; Editing by Richard Chang and Alan Crosby)