OPM, DHS, White House Declined to Brief House Armed Services Panel on Historic Hack

Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas

Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas Molly Riley/AP File Photo

The conversation would have been documented for the record.

This story has been updated.

The Office of Personnel Management, Department of Homeland Security and White House backed out of a closed-door congressional briefing on the OPM hack at the eleventh hour, according to the head of the House Armed Services Committee. 

The agencies declined to testify at the Tuesday classified session, according to the committee, because the conversation would have been documented. 

“OPM, Homeland Security and OMB’s last-minute refusal to appear before this committee is unacceptable," Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said in a statement. "There is no excuse at all for being unwilling to explain on the record about how the breach happened and what we are doing to prevent another one. What could they possibly have to hide?" 

The committee regularly transcribes such closed briefings, he added.  

The OPM data breach, believed to be an act of Chinese espionage, put at risk 21.5 million national security personnel, who were seeking clearance to handle classified intelligence, as well as their spouses and children. 

"The overwhelming victims of the breach are our troops and the [Defense Department] civilians who work to support them – not to mention the force protection implications from a breach of personally-identifiable information of their family members and dependents," Thornberry said. 

The U.S. government recently negotiated with identity-monitoring provider ID Experts to protect the millions of victims for three years at a cost of $330 million. The agencies where the personnel were applying for clearances are covering the expenses. 

"The department has already been forced to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in identity protection services to try and repair the damage," Thornberry said. 

The briefing intended to include OPM, DHS and the Office of Management and Budget would address what he characterized as the largest government data breach in history.  

"Their excuse, that the testimony would be on the record, is disturbing," Thornberry said. "What a disservice to the men and women who placed their trust in these agencies."

OPM first publicly disclosed that a network intrusion had compromised sensitive employee information on June 4. 

Later on Tuesday, OMB provided a joint statement to Nextgov saying, "Since May, the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Personnel Management and the Department of Homeland Security have engaged in more than a dozen classified briefings and open hearings to ensure our partners in Congress are supported with the most up-to-date information on this issue. Unfortunately, we were unable to accommodate a last-minute change in the request today. We look forward to working with our partners in Congress for a briefing in the future.”

It is unknown if the committee will subpoena any of the three agencies for testimony. "The committee has a number of ways to get the information we need," a committee spokesman told Nextgov in an email. "The chairman hopes that the agencies concerned will reconsider their decision."