Concerned over contradictory White House statements about the government’s controversial e-mail archiving efforts, a U.S. district judge April 24 ordered the Bush administration to collect and preserve all e-mails in .pst files for individuals employed at the White House between March 2003 and October 2005. Millions of White House e-mail are missing from the period.
The White House admits e-mails are missing but insists the e-mails are on back-up tapes and drives that as yet haven’t been located. Federal law requires the preservation of all White House e-mail. The period of time covered by the order includes the start of the Iraq war, the Valerie Plame affair and the White House response to Hurricane Katrina.
Judge John Facciola also recommended that the preservation order be extended to data copied onto flash drives and other portable media for purposes other than preservation. Facciola ordered the White House to advise the court as to whether all backup tapes created between 2003-2005 have been preserved and to specify any dates for which no backups exist.
In his order, Facciola pointed to apparent contradictions in White House statements about the missing e-mails. Theresa Payton, chief information officer at the EOP (Executive Office of the President), has stated that the White House regularly overwrote backup tapes prior to October 2003, but the Office of Administration insists Peyton’s remarks are “simply incorrect.”
“The Court must admit that it is still unclear which backup tapes are being preserved and stored by EOP,” Facciola wrote in his order. “To resolve any ambiguities once and for all, EOP is ordered to inform the Court on or before May 5, 2008, whether all backup tapes created between March 2003 and October 2003 have been preserved.”
Lotus-Outlook Migration Strategy Comes Under Scrutiny
When the Bush administration took office, it inherited the Automated Records Management System, or ARMS, put in place by the Clinton administration. The system was compatible with Lotus Notes. Between 2002-2004, the Bush administration began a migration to Microsoft Exchange.
“There was a great deal of concern about proceeding with the migration to Outlook [and] Exchange without having an adequate e-mail records management solution in place,” Steven McDevitt, an information technology specialist at the White House from 2002-2003, told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in February.
McDevitt added, “The approach of simply storing e-mail messages in .pst files provides no mechanism or audit trail that tracks changes to data files or the activities performed by users or system administrators.”
The National Security Archive, an independent, nongovernmental research institute and library located at George Washington University, and CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) have also been pressuring the White House for public disclosure of the e-mails.
CREW originally filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Office of Administration on March 29, 2007, regarding records of the missing e-mails. When the office refused to turn over the information, CREW sued the White House May 23 for the information. The organization also released a report on the missing e-mails based on information obtained from two confidential sources.
Following up on CREW’s information, the National Security Archive also sued the White House on Sept. 5. The National Security Archive and CREW have subsequently consolidated their legal actions against the White House to force disclosure of the missing e-mails.