White House says configuration mistake led to loss of vice presidential e-mail

White House says configuration mistake led to loss <br>of vice presidential e-mail

By Shruti Dat'

GCN Staff

JUNE 12'Backup copies of e-mail within the Office of the Vice President were not made between March 1998 and early April 1999 because the technician who set up a new operating system did not configure the office's server to make such copies, the Clinton administration said last week.

In March 1998, a White House contractor migrated the server in Vice President Gore's office to Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 but failed to set the server's configuration to make backup copies of e-mail, Steven F. Reich, senior associate counsel to the president, said in a June 7 letter to the House Government Reform Committee.

The White House hand-delivered the letter to James C. Wilson, Government Reform's chief counsel. The letter responded to a May 16 inquiry from Wilson about why the White House had not supplied the Gore e-mail in response to a March 9 subpoena from the committee, which sought White House e-mail correspondence as part of its campaign finance investigation.

During the NT conversion, the contractor'whom the White House has not identified'created a new drive for e-mail files and labeled it the E: drive.

"Technical personnel neglected to add the new E: drive to the server backup schedule," Reich said in his letter. "While backups of the [vice president's] server continued as before, they no longer captured e-mail that had been transferred to the new E: drive."

The White House Office of Administration's Information Systems and Technology Division discovered the mistake on April 2 of last year. It then reconfigured the server to make copies of e-mail in the Gore office.

The administration acknowledged earlier that it knew there were problems with the backup of some vice presidential staff messages. But in earlier information sent to the committee, the administration said it did not know the extent of the problem [see story at www.gcn.com/vol19_no7/news/1649-1.html].

Initially, the White House Counsel's Office had assumed the White House Automated Records Management System, used by the Executive Office of the President since 1994, also managed e-mail records for Gore's office, Reich said.

But that was not the case until recently. At some point during the past few years, the vice president's office had set up its own system and was making its own backup copies of documents, Reich said.

The office must make copies of documents, including e-mail messages, to comply with the Presidential Records Act and in case of a system failure.

There was confusion about whether the Gore staff was using ARMS because some of e-mail had been captured by the White House system, Reich said. He gave three examples:

  • Any e-mail from a White House staff member sent to a staff member in the vice president's office
  • E-mail sent by vice presidential staff members using mail accounts assigned by the Information Systems and Technology Division since early 1997, because those accounts are managed by ARMS
  • Some vice presidential e-mail reconstructed by the White House for the period between 1993 and 1994 and saved to ARMS


"When we learned that our prior understanding was incorrect, we instructed the IS&T staff to address the problem," Reich said in his letter. "We are advised that all [vice presidential] e-mail accounts are now fully managed by ARMS."

As of early last month, the White House had moved all vice presidential staff members' e-mail accounts to a new server so that ARMS could scan all messages and make backup copies, Reich said.

"We also believe that when the ARMS scan was implemented, a copy of all the e-mail still on the [vice presidential] server was sent to ARMS. We have asked our outside contractor for independent verification of that fact," he said.

The White House systems staff is also developing a method for capturing copies of e-mail messages that Gore's staff members send and receive through Senate e-mail accounts. Some of the vice president's staff members have Senate accounts because Gore is also president of the Senate. No archive exists for the Senate e-mail accounts, Reich added.

The White House further plans to develop a method to back up e-mail sent to the vice president by the general public via the Internet, Reich said.

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