WASHINGTON – Free credit monitoring for veterans whose personal information was stolen has been withdrawn, the Bush administration said Tuesday, because the laptop containing their data has been recovered.
In a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, White House budget director Rob Portman said he was canceling his office's request last month for $160.5 million in additional funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide one year of free monitoring to millions of veterans and active-duty troops.
He noted that the FBI had determined with a "high degree of confidence" that information stored on the stolen laptop and external drive were not accessed or compromised.
"On the basis of the FBI's analysis, the administration has concluded that credit monitoring services and the associated funding will no longer be necessary," Portman wrote.
The announcement came as the House Veterans Affairs Committee was considering legislation to provide credit protection and strengthen information security following the May 3 theft of 26.5 million veterans' and active-duty troops' names, birth dates and Social Security numbers at a VA data analyst's home.
Veterans groups have said they should still receive the free monitoring following the government's worst information security breach, noting there was no certainty that the information had not been compromised.
They also have criticized the VA for the theft, which came after years of warnings by auditors that information security was lax, and say that other breaches are likely to happen. In a blistering report last week, Veterans Affairs Inspector General George Opfer faulted both the VA data analyst and his supervisors for poor judgment and said dramatic reform was needed.
VA spokesman Matt Burns said Tuesday that although credit monitoring won't be offered, the department planned to hire a company to provide data breach analysis to detect potential patterns of misuse of veterans' information.
He said the analysis will be paid for out of current VA funds that will not result in a "diminution in the quality of health care."
"While the potential for misuse of this data is considered highly unlikely by FBI and law enforcement, data breach analysis will provide additional assurances," Burns said.
The laptop and external drive were recovered June 28 after an informant, responding to a $50,000 reward offer, turned in the equipment to U.S. Park Police. Authorities have said he was not a suspect and no arrests have been made.