GAO knocks Clinton administration's e-mail recordkeeping

MAY 8—The staffs of former President Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore did a poor job of saving e-mail records, according to a General Accounting Office report.

By Dennis Blank

Special to GCN


MAY 8'The staffs of former President Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore did a poor job of saving e-mail records, according to a General Accounting Office report.

The administration lost many e-mail messages because of malfunctioning computers and miscommunication, GAO investigators reported late last month in Electronic Records: Clinton Administration's Management of Executive Office of the President E-Mail System.

'The Office of the Vice President did not implement adequate records management practices to ensure that all e-mail records generated or received were preserved in accordance with applicable law and best practices,' the report said.

Gore's office stopped making copies and saving e-mail messages on tape backup as required by law sometime after May 1993, investigators said.

The government has spent more than $11.7 million to restore the records, according to the report.

Clinton's executive office did not effectively monitor management of e-mail records, the report said. Although the Executive Office of the President was aware of Automated Records Management System malfunctions that prevented e-mail capture, White House officials said they did not understand the scope of the problem. Officials were also unable to supply written documents to support their claim that they had notified investigating agencies, investigators reported.

The GAO charged that officials in both offices had a legal responsibility to comply with the law and properly maintain e-mail records. But between October 1996 and May 1999, two malfunctions prevented Internet e-mail from being properly archived [ http://www.gcn.com/vol1_no1/daily-updates/2203-1.html].

'The malfunction was caused by improper user account configuration in which the server name 'Mail2' was spelled 'MAIL2,'' the GAO said. 'Because the ARMS interface program did not recognize the upper-case spelling of the mail server name, it was unable to locate and capture new income e-mail messages for these user accounts.'

Even though the malfunctions were discovered in June 1998, and fixed in November 1998, the White House said it did not realize until February 2000 that the glitch 'had affected the integrity of White House document productions,' according to the GAO.

An error by a Northrop Grumman employee caused another malfunction that prevented the capture of incoming Internet e-mail to users with first names starting with the letter 'D.' That glitch was discovered several months later and fixed in May 1999, the GAO report said.

'Because [the Office of the Vice President] did not ensure the preservation of e-mail records in either paper or electronic form presidential records may have been irretrievably lost,' GAO said. 'Computer malfunctions, ineffective systems, and records management practices and miscommunication between EOP components led to e-mail records not being preserved by ARMS.'

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