By Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government's hiring office, hit recently by a massive computer hack, said on Thursday it was restarting its online system for processing security clearance applications.
Shut down in late June for "security enhancements," the Office of Personnel Management's e-QIP system was back on line, OPM spokesman Sam Schumach said in a statement.
He said, however, that the system would only "incrementally" be re-opened to users so as to "resume this service in an efficient and orderly way."
OPM was sorely criticized after it reported in April and May that computer breaches had compromised job and security clearance personal data related to more than 22 million people. The e-QIP system was shut down two weeks ago as a precaution.
Bringing e-QIP back up incrementally means that, at first, only clearance applicants who had already started submitting data to the system for their clearance applications would be invited to start using it again.
New applicants would be unable to use the system for an unspecified time period, an official said.
OPM's statement said that it had turned off e-QIP "proactively" and that there was no evidence that a "vulnerability" discovered in the system had been "exploited" by hackers.
Separately, government officials have acknowledged that data submitted by 4.2 million federal job applicants, as well as security clearance data for 21.5 million individuals, some of them relatives of clearance applicants, likely was compromised in two computer breaches disclosed earlier this year.
Officials have privately blamed China for hacking into the data, but the Obama administration has indicated it is reluctant to publicly accuse the Chinese of this kind of spying.
China has dismissed as "irresponsible and unscientific" any suggestion that it was behind the hacking.
Some administration officials have said the disabling of e-QIP seriously "hindered" the security clearance process because agencies and contractors who dealt with clearance applications were not set up to handle replacement paper applications.
An OPM official said the government still had not started to notify any of the 21.5 million individuals whose data was suspected of being compromised.
(Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, David Storey, Toni Reinhold)