Sen. Cardin tries to reassure SSA employees after data breach

The Maryland Democrat hosts his third town hall with federal employees since March answering questions on a series of hot-button issues.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) told a forum of Social Security Administration employees Friday that another layer of security is needed to better protect citizens’ Social Security numbers.

An audience member asked Cardin during his town hall in Baltimore Friday why federal employee SSNs that were taken as part of the data breach impacting 4 million to 14 million current and former federal employees were not encrypted by the Office of Personnel Management. The employee also wanted to know what would be done to protect employees’ personal data in the future.

Harkening back to the days when his Social Security number was printed on his Congressional ID, Cardin said, “We’ve been very reckless on the accessibility of the Social Security number, and that’s unfortunate. So, yes, we’re going to have to go a second level of security. It will probably be some form of a PIN number in addition to Social Security numbers in this country. It will be inconvenient. It will be a little more costly. But, there’s been more money stolen from banks through cyber than ever Jesse James types ever took out of banks.”

This was Cardin’s third trip to talk to federal employees since March. He also went to the National Institutes of Health and the Census Bureau.

Another employee at the SSA town hall asked Cardin when the agency can expect to have a permanent commissioner confirmed. Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin has been waiting confirmation for almost a year, and has been acting since February 2013.

“We have the right person, just as importantly we must have a confirmed person,” said Cardin. “This is one of the most important functions of government … when you want to have accountability you need to have a Senate-confirmed head. There’ve been too many vacancies that have not been filled. Now in this case, I must tell you, I think it’s more the fault of the leadership in the Senate than it is the President of the United States. We had the opportunity to do this and it was denied; and now the conditions that the Senate leadership is asking for basically cannot be met. So, that’s one of the reasons why I think the administration is reluctant to move forward at this time.”

One employee posed another hot-button question, “If you can’t get the federal workers a raise, do you think you could get us a day off as a national holiday, at least for one year?”

“You should get an increase. We need you here,” Cardin replied. “We have less people doing more work. Yes, another day off would probably make some sense, but quite frankly I’d rather ease your workload so you can get your mission done without the type of unrealistic expectations on your workload. I think that would be a better utilization: pay raises and more workers to do the mission; and that’s what I’m fighting for.”

He said it’s even more “ridiculous” that Social Security employees still are subject to the caps when their salaries are paid out of trust funds and therefore don’t affect the deficit. He vowed to keep working to get relief for SSA employees. Cardin said he’s also concerned about the government’s ability to retain a dedicated workforce when many are leaving for jobs in the private sector.

“When we look at comparable pay and comparable work done between the public and private sector, the public sector is underpaid. And I can show you how that’s done; you look at the responsibilities you have versus the private sector, you look at the salary levels and the fringe benefit levels, the retirement benefits, health benefits etc.,” he said.

Read all of Federal News Radio’s coverage of the OPM Cyber Breach.

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