The US House Oversight Committee has been forced to hit the troubled Office of Personnel Management (OPM) with a subpoena due to lack of co-operation, it has been revealed. The request for vital information comes as a high-ranking official claims acting OPM director Beth Cobert has been less-than-helpful in the ongoing investigation.
In what was one of the most notable cyber intrusions of 2015, the hack against the government department resulted in the loss of roughly 21.5 million account records and over five million fingerprint scans of federal employees past and present.
Yet now, as the investigation into the failings of the department rolls on, Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the oversight committee, has claimed his panel was forced to take legal action against the department because officials in the OPM, including current director Beth Cobert, were "refusing to cooperate" with their enquiries.
"We made a commitment to the American people to ensure a hack of this nature never happens again. The documents we've repeatedly requested be provided to this committee are essential to fulfilling that promise," he told The Hill.
"OPM, under Ms Cobert's leadership, is not co-operating with the committee's investigation. Despite assurances of co-operation, I'm disappointed Ms Cobert is not working in good faith with the committee. I will use all available remedies to obtain the information needed to conduct a thorough and meaningful investigation."
Cobert took control of the agency in June last year after the resignation of Katherine Archuleta, who was in charge at the time the massive data leak took place.
Federal data exposed
A vast amount of data was stolen by the unknown hackers in the breach last year, including Social Security Numbers (SSNs), home addresses, health records and financial accounts. To make matters worse, only two months later a forensic investigation into the breach uncovered that 5.6 million fingerprint records were also missing. The US government, in response, quickly blamed Chinese state-sponsored adversaries.
Yet as new details came to light, it was revealed that in the year before the incident an internal audit of the department found nearly a dozen major security flaws in the OPM computer systems. "The drastic increase in the number of systems operating without a valid authorisation is alarming," the report said at the time, indicating the agency should have been more prepared for such an attack.
In any case, the investigation has continued to uncover new details about the hack. Most recently, plans were set in motion to create a new government-wide entity, called the National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB), which will effectively take over oversight on security clearances provided to federal employees.