Bank loses federal workers' charge card data

By Daniel Pulliam

Government charge card account information for 1.2 million federal workers--including names, Social Security numbers, addresses and account numbers--went missing late last year, according to Bank of America officials.

The bank, which owned the computer tapes containing the data, said the tapes were lost during a shipment to a backup data center. Federal law enforcement officials are investigating. Bank of America, one of five contractors with the General Services Administration's "SmartPay" program, is cooperating with the investigation.

According to the bank, there is no evidence to suggest that the content of the tapes has been accessed or misused, and the tapes are assumed to be lost.

Bank of America officials said they will monitor the accounts and cardholders will be contacted if any unusual activity is discovered.

Barbara Desoer, the bank's global technology, service and fulfillment executive, said in a statement that the company regrets the incident. "The privacy of customer information receives the highest priority at Bank of America, and we take our responsibilities for safeguarding it very seriously."

In fiscal 2004, government workers used charge cards for 26 million transactions, saving agencies $1.4 billion in administrative costs, according to GSA.

Agency spokeswomen Mary Alice Johnson said GSA is cooperating with the investigation, but since the data that was lost was the bank's, the agency has little to say about the incident.

Law enforcement officials gave the bank permission to notify "SmartPay" charge card holders by mail that their information has been lost. A toll-free number, 800-493-8444, has been set up by Bank of America for account holders.

According to the Pentagon, about 900,000 Defense Department workers may be affected by the loss of the information. The Secret Service is conducting the investigation with assistance from the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, Defense officials said.

The Pentagon's information outlet, the American Forces Press Service, reported that GSA did not notify Defense officials until Jan. 19 because a "delay was necessary to protect the integrity of the investigation."

Senate credit card information also was on the lost data tapes.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., Judiciary Committee ranking member, said the loss may help focus Congress' attention on the growing problem of personal data security and identity theft. Leahy said Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., agreed to hold hearings on the issue of identity theft.

"This is becoming an alarming and all-too-familiar story for many Americans in our increasing digital world," Leahy said in a statement. "This episode also suggests the need for greater care and accountability on the part of the businesses that have access to Americans' personal information."