Democrats allege GOP is taking risks with sensitive info

Democrats allege that House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., has unnecessarily requested sensitive documents on the HealthCare.gov infrastructure and should receive a briefing on keeping that information secure.

Several Democratic ranking members in the House are requesting that House leaders call for a classified meeting with administration cyber security officials to discuss proper handling of documents that Rep. Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, subpoenaed from one of the contractors that worked on HealthCare.gov.

In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and the ranking Democrats on six other committees are requesting a session with Boehner, Pelosi, and the committee’s leadership “about the extremely significant risks of disclosing sensitive contractor documents relating to the Healthcare.gov website.”

Issa unilaterally subpoenaed the documents, which related to the website’s security, from the MITRE Corporation. The company had previously provided a redacted version of the documents for the committee after allowing them full access to the unredacted documents at the Health and Human Services Department (HHS), but Issa requested the full, unredacted set of documents, the Democrats said.

Officials from both the HHS and MITRE’s CEO wrote to Issa to express concern about the possibility of the documents being released beyond the committee because they contain critical information about the site’s infrastructure that could make it vulnerable to a cyber attack. They requested to provide a briefing for the committee on the document security, which was declined, the letter says. The Democrats argue that means Issa and his staff “are unaware of the extent of damage to our national interest that could be caused by release of the documents.” 

The Republicans disagree and say they are taking “appropriate steps” to secure the documents in consultation with “experts on sensitive technical information.”

“The Committee is carrying out its oversight responsibilities to protect and educate the American people about security risks recklessly created by this administration. Documents that administration officials fought to keep out of Congress’ possession indicate that HealthCare.gov launched with vulnerabilities that HHS knew could have detrimental consequences for website users,” a spokesperson for the Oversight Committee Republicans told CBS News. “We only wish the administration had taken security concerns this seriously before launching its website.”

White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler, who wrote to Boehner on behalf of the administration, says that HHS and MITRE “made substantial efforts” to accommodate the committee’s ability to conduct oversight in a way that wouldn’t compromise the information.

“We do not believe these sensitive documents should have been provided to the Committee without adequate protocols to safeguard their contents.  But now that they have, we have an obligation to understand the harm that would be caused if these documents were disclosed,” the Democrats wrote in their letter to Boehner and Pelosi. “It is reckless in the extreme for Chairman Issa or any member to possess these documents without a full understanding of the extremely sensitive information they contain and the widespread damage that could be caused if they got into the wrong hands.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the letter to Boehner and Pelosi was authored by the Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. It was written by seven ranking members on a variety of committees

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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