RealTime IT News

VA Chief Didn't Know of Breach For Two Weeks

Reporter's Notebook: Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson endured a day-long grilling Thursday by oversight committees in both the Senate and the House.

It's the sort of thing that happens when your agency loses personal data of 26.5 million veterans.

Nicholson's testimony revealed he wasn't even informed of the breach until more than two weeks after the fact.

In early May, a VA data analyst took home a laptop with the names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers of every veteran discharged after 1975. The laptop was then taken in a burglary of the employee's home.

Nicholson said the data analyst was not authorized to take the data home. He also said the employee admitted taking the laptop home on numerous occasions since 2003.

In addition, Nicholson said the employee's supervisors did not know the data analyst had been taking the laptop home.

In another curious bit of testimony, Nicholson said the VA has a policy of encrypting sensitive data to reduce the chances of identity theft in the case of a data breach.

Nevertheless, the stolen data was unencrypted.

"We have a meltdown in VA's information management," said House Committee on Veterans Affairs Chairman Steve Buyer (R-Ind.).

The ranking Democrat on the committee also had choice words for Nicholson.

"The problem before us today is not unexpected. It has sprung from a culture of indifference at VA and grown strong among the leaders that allowed it to grow," Rep. Bob Filner of California said.

"The most important agent in information control and security in an organization is its leadership. When they are not proactive, bad things happen."

Tech's Good Day on The Hill: It was Thursday. Hands were raised and votes were taken. Tech agenda's was served.

In the Senate, lawmakers approved raising the cap on H1-B visas to 115,000 from the current limit of 65,000.

The visas are limited to workers with graduate degrees in science, engineering and technology from U.S. universities and are a favorite with U.S. technology firms, if not the U.S. IT workforce.

The legislation, part of the Immigration Reform Act, also provides exemptions from both the H1-B and employment-based (EB) visa caps for certain workers with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

"Maintaining our nation's competitiveness depends in part on our ability to continue to attract the world's greatest minds to come and work in the United States, while simultaneously we work to improve our own talent pipeline in key areas," John J. Castellani, president of the Business Roundtable, an association of chief executives, said in a statement.

The effort to raise the H1-B cap faces an uncertain future. In the House, immigration reform doesn't include raising the cap.

Run With The Puns: Thursday's House Judiciary debate over banning Internet gambling found lawmakers in high spirits.

Noting the bill would still permit horse race wagering over the Internet, Florida Democrat Robert Wexler suggested all forms of legal gambling should be allowed online, including dog races.

Ban it all or ban none, Wexler said.

That unleashed a flurry of horse and dog word plays.

"I don't have a horse in this race or a dog in the hunt," California Democrat Adam Schiff said.

When it came time to vote, Judiciary Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner said, "All those in favor, say wuff."

In the end, 25 lawmakers barked yes for the ban.

The bill would ban all forms of interstate gambling in the United States. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), would also prohibit banks and other financial institutions from issuing credit card or check payments to gambling sites.

Oddsmakers give the bill little chance to move beyond Thursday's committee vote.