(June 22) A possible security breach in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s computer systems may have left personal identity information of as many as 26,000 current and former employees in the agency’s Washington, D.C., area offices vulnerable to outside access.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns notified USDA employees in the Washington area that a breach in the agency’s computer systems during the first weekend in June may have compromised employee data.

Johanns said he first learned of the possible breach June 6 but said at the time that employee information had been protected. Further investigation, however, revealed personal data had been compromised.

The agency said it would provide a year of free credit-monitoring services to all employees affected by the break.

Johanns notified all employees of the incident June 21.

The information potentially accessed includes individuals’ names, Social Security numbers and photographs. Worksite information already available to the public also is contained in the database.

Employees who believe they might be affected can go to a Web site, www.firstgov.gov, for more information. USDA also has set up a call center, from which employees can obtain information about the incident and learn about consumer identity protections. The phone number, active from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, is 1-800-333-4636.

USDA information technology personnel were notified June 5 of suspicious computer network traffic and responded immediately, the agency said. A preliminary review of the security software had indicated that all personal identity information had been protected.