Wendell Gilliard has been getting the same question over and over for the past week:
Did you know about this?
“This,” of course, is that little security breach at the state Department of Revenue that exposed 3.6 million people in South Carolina to identity theft.
Gilliard and every other lawmaker have had to answer the same way: No.
Which is kind of a problem.
South Carolina may have gotten hacked, but right now the Legislature is hacked off.
Many lawmakers have been critical of the Haley administration's handling of this whole fiasco. They want to know why this crime was kept secret for more than two weeks, and why they didn't use that time to better prepare for 3 million phone calls from worried residents.
So far, the General Assembly hasn't seen a lot of answers, although lawmakers have dispelled the notion that we were vulnerable to thieves because of budget cuts.
In Gov. Nikki Haley's 2012 veto message, she acknowledged the state's information technology deficiencies.
She noted that the Center for Digital Government ranked us as tied for last in the country based on “governance, practices, and accomplishments in the IT arena.”
Ringing endorsement, huh?
Haley vetoed IT budget requests for the Secretary of State and Department of Natural Resources, but that was internal stuff and had nothing to do with this problem.
Since last week, however, lawmakers have been poring through budgets to see if the Department of Revenue asked for any security upgrades that went unfunded or were vetoed. That doesn't appear to be the case.
State Rep. Gary Simrill, who chairs the House Ways and Means subcommittee that reviews Revenue's budget, said the agency did lose some computer funding as a result of budget shortfalls this year, although it had nothing to do with their security system.
But that doesn't mean that someone isn't going to have to answer some tough questions very soon.
“I just don't think transparency has been the rule of the day,” Simrill says.
To translate Simrill's remarks — this is far from over.
The Senate Finance Committee hearing Tuesday was just the first foray into this mess. Count on the House to follow suit with Watergate-style hearings.
“I have some questions,” says state Rep. Jim Merrill. “Clearly it could have been handled better.”
Lawmakers are of a positively bipartisan attitude about this. That's what happens when folks can't get through to Experian and phone their local senator instead.
While some are already calling for Haley's head, and the buck does stop there, most realize it is a bit of a stretch to pin this all on her. But lawmakers — and everyone else — are well within their rights to critique her response (and occasional contradictory statements).
Luckily, it seems most lawmakers realize the important thing here is to plug this leak, find out why it happened and make sure it doesn't happen again.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.