The U.S. Forest Service is investigating what it is describing as the unauthorized release of employees’ personal information, including Social Security numbers. Most of the agency's 34,000 workers are affected.
The disclosure was made last Wednesday. The Forest Service says the circumstances and motivations behind the unauthorized release are unclear and are under aggressive investigation. It says additional details will be made available when appropriate.
The federal government will pay for free credit monitoring for all affected current and former employees, but retiree Johnny Hodges still feels inconvenienced.
“It’s a terrible pain," Hodges said. "It’s like getting your credit card stolen, or worse.”
Hodges is Secretary of the National Association of Forest Service Retirees which represents about 650 people across the country.
On May 29, Forest Service officials internally confirmed that so-called Personally Identifiable Information – or PII as it’s called – was emailed outside of the agency’s network.
That means an outgoing email inappropriately contained a report with full names, social security numbers and other personal information belonging to current and former Forest Service employees.
No further details were disclosed.
Forest Service Interim Chief Vicki Christiansen says "the majority of our employees may have had their information compromised." She notes hers is among them.
NAFSR Secretary, Johnny Hodges adds this isn’t the first time the Forest Service has lost control of private employee information. He says something similar happened a few years ago.
“That was an electronic one and that was a pretty big breach," said Hodges. "It’s hard to tell on this one how big it is and what all’s involved. We’re still waiting for some more details."
Officials say an investigation is underway and that the agency is making changes to improve its security and handling and accessibility of private information.
What that means exactly is unknown right now.