VA Secretary Jim Nicholson told two Congressional hearings that he was "mad as hell" that VA officials didn't tell him for 13 days about the theft of 26.5 million social security numbers from an employee's home. He pledged decisive action. "I can't explain the lapses of judgment on the behalf of my people. We will stay focused on these problems until we get them fixed," he said.
But, the Washington Post reports, his audience was skeptical.
"The testimony you gave us is absolutely baffling," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who chairs the Homeland Security Committee. "You seem to be saying it was just one employee. But it's not just one employee. You have a high-risk vulnerable system that has been identified time and again as vulnerable."
"Your own people don't tell you about the theft involving 26 million veterans. You say you take responsibility but then you tell veterans to go call your creditors," Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif. said. "You're not taking responsibility for this mismanagement debacle," Filner said. "The most dramatic thing to take responsibility is to resign."
Beyond addressing the VA's security measures, which have been criticized repeatedly by both Congress and the agency's inspector general, and explaining the two-week delay in alerting the FBI, Nicholson will also have to find away to address the concerns of vets.
During the hearing, Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Ind., chairman of the House veterans panel, pressed Nicholson to give the nation's veterans assurances that their information will not be used for identity theft, or that they would be "made whole" if the information is misused.
Nicholson said he could not, saying that the VA would have to get more funding to compensate veterans. Nicholson has previously downplayed the potential danger, explaining that the May 3 theft appeared to be a random burglary.
"Before I can give you that assurance, I have to work with Congress ... if they suffer a loss," Nicholson said, who added that it would take about $25 million alone to improve security procedures at his agency. "It will give piece of mind to veterans if they suffer a loss to have a system to compensate."