WASHINGTON (AP) — The top technology official at a federal agency hit with hacks that compromised the personal files of 21 million Americans has resigned days before a congressional oversight committee hearing on the breach.
Donna Seymour, the chief information officer for the Office of Personnel Management, announced her "retirement" in an email to colleagues Monday, writing that "leaving OPM at this time was a very tough decision, but I feel it is in the agency's best interest that my presence does not distract from the great work this team does every single day."
The U.S. believes the hack, which impacted sensitive background paperwork used for security clearances, was a Chinese espionage operation.
The federal government last month established a new agency to handle the background check process and the records it creates, shifting data security responsibilities to the Defense Department.
Seymour, who came to OPM in late 2013, was scheduled to testify on the breach before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Wednesday. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who chairs the committee, has called for her resignation multiple times, called her retirement "good news and an important turning point" for the federal agency.
"While I am disappointed Ms. Seymour will no longer appear before our Committee this week to answer to the American people, her retirement is necessary and long overdue," Chaffetz said in a statement. "On her watch, whether through negligence or incompetence, millions of Americans lost their privacy and personal data."
He said the national security implications of the breach are long lasting and that the agency needs a new chief technology officer to restore confidence.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Maryland, the committee's ranking Democrat, defended Seymour and her "aggressive response" to the data breach.
"Unfortunately, efforts by Republicans to blame her for the cyberattack on OPM are both unfair and inaccurate, and they set a terrible precedent that will discourage qualified experts from taking on the challenges our nation faces in the future," Cumming said in a statement.
OPM's Acting Director Beth Cobert lauded Seymour for a distinguished 37-year career in the federal service. She said Seymour had inherited enormous technology challenges that were "years in the making" and made significant progress addressing them. That praise was echoed by U.S. Chief Information Officer Tony Scott in a statement.
No timeline was announced for Seymour's replacement. OPM spokesman Michael Amato said the agency is "working on that front, but in the meantime, we remain confident in the team we have in place and their ability to continue our efforts to improve our IT capabilities and security by working collaboratively across OPM and with our partners throughout government."
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