House Agriculture Committee Reviews USDA Computer Security and Accessibility Issues

May 2, 2007

WASHINGTON - Today, the House Agriculture Committee held a public hearing to investigate the U.S. Department of AgricultureÆs recent announcement that it released the Social Security Numbers of more than 38,000 USDA program participants. The numbers were publicly available on the internet.

Committee members questioned USDA officials about the circumstances surrounding the disclosure of these Social Security Numbers, which were made available in public databases for the past 25 years. Each participant in the affected programs was assigned a 15 digit identification number which included the individualÆs Social Security Number.  The 15 digit number was then posted on a public website.

"Farmers and ranchers trust the USDA with their private business information, and the inability of the Department to protect that information is unacceptable," said Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin C. Peterson. "Without reliable access and confidence that the USDA will manage such sensitive information appropriately, our farm programs cannot operate to the best of their abilities. I look forward to working with USDA to be sure that these issues are addressed so that farmers and ranchers can feel secure that the information they provide will get to the right place efficiently and without risk of exposure."

"The discovery that the Social Security and Tax Identification numbers of more than 38,000 USDA customers had been posted to a publicly accessible Internet site is disturbing on many levels. It is important that USDA, along with every other government agency, ensure that any personal information gathered from the American people is safe from public disclosure," said Ranking Member Bob Goodlatte.

"This situation is appalling.  Our farmers and ranchers live and die by their credit.  If the USDA puts them at risk for identity theft, that would potentially devastate their businesses," said Agriculture Committee member Congressman Zack Space who requested the hearing today. "We must do everything possible to remedy this situation and make sure that it never happens again."

The Committee heard testimony from and questioned USDA Chief Financial Officer Charles Christopherson who was accompanied by USDA Assistant Secretary for Administration Boyd Rutherford and USDA Chief Information Officer Dave Combs.

Witness testimony is available on the Committee website. A full transcript of the hearing will be posted on the Committee website in 4-6 weeks.