Gov. Nikki Haley is in damage-control mode, and for good reason. Once again, the great Palmetto State has made national news. Once again, it's not because of something we'd like the whole nation to know.
It is the unravelling and ongoing tale of the threat of identity theft the majority of our state's population and thousands of its businesses face in the wake of an international hacker's ability to access our state Department of Revenue's computer files that contain income tax and detailed personal information.
On Nov. 16, Haley took an offensive stance and did something that has been out of character thus far in her administration. She invited newspaper editors to join in a conference telephone call to discuss the DOR debacle. She even intimated she will do more such conferences going forward, and not just when a statewide disaster - her Hurricane Hugo, as she called it - strikes. Additionally, the governor seems to recognize she has often been combative with the media, something she is working to change now. Indeed, Haley has at times behaved less like a governor and more like USC coach Steve Spurrier when dealing with the press.
THIS IS A GOOD THING. It's not a good thing it took such a breach of the private information belonging to the Palmetto State's residents to spur this new direction. And there's little reason to doubt her hopes of re-election depend heavily on how the governor handles her "Hugo."
That said, it is easy for all of us to judge our leadership, whether at the grassroots level, such as school boards, or on up the line to governor, Congress and president. Anyone put in a position of making decisions that affect the masses will be examined, judged, criticized and sometimes applauded.
This newspaper has not always fallen in line with the governor on any number of matters, including this one. Sometimes, however, the governor deserves the benefit of the doubt and, perhaps, even a little support and less "damned if you do, damned if you don't" from those on the outside looking in.
This might be one of those occasions.
While we all likely throw out the cliché and say the buck stops with the governor, it is ludicrous to think she should have known all the details about how various state agencies were or are operating their computer systems and whether residents' personal information was even vulnerable in the first place.
DURING THE NOV. 16 CONFERENCE CALL, Haley shared she and husband Michael are themselves victims of identity theft, something they are still dealing with after nearly nine years. Obviously, she would not wish the same thing on anyone.
"I never expected we would have to deal with cyber attacks," she told conference participants. State agencies had operated under what were thought to be standards applied even at the federal level, and she had no reason to conceive there was a security issue.
Haley was criticized for how residents were informed of the massive security breach. Why such a long delay from when the breach was discovered by the Secret Service (Oct. 10) to when the public was notified (Oct. 26)? Why such a trickling flow of information from her office and DOR?
Legitimate questions, but Haley also offered very plausible and rational answers during the telephone conference. She was, in fact, advised to wait even longer, until more information came in so the hackers would not be tipped off. But the governor did what she should: She put the welfare of residents ahead of all and wanted to move quickly on helping residents get protection.
Some boneheaded decisions - or absence of decisions - were made by people at levels well below Haley, and well before she arrived in the governor's mansion. It is, quite frankly, scary supposed smart IT people were not encrypting our Social Security numbers and were using unprotected third-party software. Haley cannot reasonably be held liable for that. Her culpability in the matter rests now on how she is moving ahead and handling the disaster.
AND IT SEEMS HALEY IS BEING PROACTIVE. She brokered a deal with Experian that will allow residents to sign up for identity protection at a price tag far below what the company initially quoted ($12 million versus $55 million). She also brokered into the deal lifetime and free fraud protection for those signing up. She is sharing this experience and, more important, how the state is resolving the problem, with the nation's other 49 states. Moreover, the governor is trying to ensure all agencies across the board are operating under the same IT management plans, and she views this disaster as yet another strong indicator of why any sitting South Carolina governor needs a department of administration. She's probably right, and it's a shame it took something of this magnitude to get lawmakers' attention.
This Hugo that crashed ashore during her term as governor has rocked the state and this governor. The saga is far from over. It is vital every resident get the protection it needs in light of the breach, but it's equally important the state do whatever it can and must to ensure such a breach cannot occur again. That will require budgetary decisions and immense cooperation among the executive and legislative branches.
For now, it appears the governor is putting forth her best effort. It would be unfortunate for the DOR calamity to become a political battleground. The residents of this state have already suffered enough battlefield injuries as it is.
This matter continues to unravel, new information continues to come out. It is entirely possible the governor was as open with the public about it all as she can be. We should all hope so, at least. The resignation of Jim Etter, the DOR chief, is a logical fallout from the debacle. But let's not throw the governor out with him, at least not just yet.
Whiting is executive editor of the Index-Journal. Contact him at 943-2522; email firstname.lastname@example.org ,or follow him on Twitter at IJEDITOR. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper's opinion.