The Obama administration at the "last minute" on Tuesday declined to allow leading officials to testify before a classified House committee investigating a massive hack attack on the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) that led to the disclosure of millions of personal records, according to a leading lawmaker.
Officials from the OPM, Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of Management and Budget cancelled their scheduled appearance before a closed-door session of the House Armed Services Committee, citing issues with the briefing being "on the record."
The officials were scheduled to provide information about the wide-ranging hack attack, which is considered one of the largest breaches of government data in U.S. history.
The personnel records of at least 21.5 million past and present federal employees were stolen in the attack, including records pertaining to U.S. troops and Defense Department employees.
Officials from all three agencies cancelled their testimony at the "last-minute," according to Rep. Mac Thornberry (R., Texas), chair of the House Armed Services Committee.
"OPM, Homeland Security, and OMB’s last-minute refusal to appear before this committee is unacceptable," Thornberry said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. "Their excuse, that the testimony would be on the record, is disturbing."
"The Committee transcribes classified briefings regularly," Thornberry said. "Let me be clear; this briefing covers the largest government data breach in history."
"The overwhelming victims of the breach are our troops and the DOD 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 went on to lash out against the Obama administration for blocking Congress from performing its oversight duties.
"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," the lawmaker said. "What could they possibly have to hide? What a disservice to the men and women who placed their trust in these agencies."
The administration is blocking Congress from taking action to rectify vulnerabilities and prevent a future attack, Thornberry said.
"Members of the Congress have an obligation to understand this serious issue," Thornberry said. "We have a role to play in preventing another breach. We owe it to our constituents, our troops, and their families to be careful stewards of this matter, and we will not stop until we get the information we are owed."
Update 1:10 P.M.: One source apprised of the situation told the Washington Free Beacon that DHS, OPM, and the OMB informed the committee that officials would not appear about an hour before the hearing started.
Officials from the Defense Department and Office of the Director of National Intelligence did appear at the hearing to testify, the source said.
Officials from the three agencies cancelled after they learned that the hearing would be transcribed, according to Claude Chafin, spokesman for the House Armed Services Committee.
"The reason was, one hour before the hearing was to begin, they discovered it was to be transcribed, which is our normal practice," Chafin explained. "They did not want to appear at a briefing that would be transcribed."
The committee has an established practice of transcribing classified briefing so that lawmakers who are unable to attend can review materials at a later date. These transcriptions are marked as classified and only accessible to those with proper security clearance, Chafin said.
"The notion hat OPM wouldn’t come up and brief members because they didn’t want to be held accountable for what they’d say in a classified setting is remarkable," Chafin told the Free Beacon.
Officials from the DNI and Pentagon "didn't have a problem being transcribed," he said.
An OPM official told the Free Beacon that is is currently working to respond to requests for comment on the matter.
Update 2:40 P.M.: In a joint statement issued Tuesday afternoon, the OMB, OPM, and DHS said the agencies were "unable to accommodate" the Armed Services Committee.
"Since May, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) 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," the agencies said in a statement provided to the Free Beacon. "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."
Committee Spokesman Chafin dismissed the response as inaccurate.
"All of our full committee classified briefing are transcribed," he told the Free Beacon. "I am not sure what ‘last-minute change in the request' they are talking about. And it still begs the question, why is transcription a problem. Presumably all of the dozen briefings and certainly the hearings would have been transcribed."
Published under: Cyber Security