White House CIO will monitor, manage e-mail

White House CIO will monitor, manage e-mail

BY TONY LEE ORR | GCN STAFF

President Bush intends to create a White House chief information officer position to oversee the executive office's systems, the General Accounting Office has reported.

A special assistant to the president, the director of the Office of Administration and other staff members met with GAO officials to discuss ways to avoid the e-mail problems that beset the previous administration. During the meetings, the White House officials revealed plans for improving electronic records management.

The new administration is developing and updating the executive office's policies for maintaining federal and presidential records, GAO said in a recent report.

Poor contractor oversight by the office staffs of President Clinton and Vice President Gore led to problems with archiving e-mail and left officials scrambling to recover years' worth of electronic documents.

The problems surfaced after congressional committees investigating potential campaign finance irregularities subpoenaed White House e-mail records.

Ineffective records management procedures compounded the problem by increasing the cost of the search, GAO said.

Some of the former administration's e-mail messages could be lost because of programming errors and miscommunications, GAO officials noted in Electronic Records: Clinton Administration's Management of Executive Office of the President E-Mail System.

'The office of 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.

The office staff never intentionally withheld information or purposely lost the e-mail records, said Gore's attorney, Andrew M. Wright. 'Considering the nature of some of the allegations that have been made ' the interests of fairness dictate that this fact should be made explicit,' he said.

Gore's staff stopped making copies and saving e-mail messages on tape backup some time after May 1993 because it assumed the White House's Automated Record Management System, which was not actually installed until 1994, was archiving the messages, GAO said.

ARMS, a keyword-searchable database, worked with a legacy e-mail system until 1996, when it began archiving e-mail generated using Lotus Notes. The Office of Administration maintained four Lotus Notes e-mail servers, one remote server and one ARMS interface server, which transferred e-mail records from the e-mail servers to ARMS.

Clinton's office did not effectively monitor the management of e-mail records, GAO said. Although the former president's staff was aware of ARMS malfunctions that prevented e-mail capture from October 1996 to mid-May 1999, White House officials said they did not understand the scope of the problem until February 2000.

GAO concluded that White House staff members had failed in their legal responsibility to comply with federal records law by not properly maintaining and archiving e-mail.

Between October 1996 and May 1999, configuration errors prevented Internet e-mail from being properly archived [GCN, April 3, 2000, Page 1].'Because the ARMS interface program did not recognize the uppercase spelling of the mail server name, it was unable to locate and capture new incoming e-mail messages for [some] user accounts,' GAO said.

Too little, too late

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,' GAO reported.

A configuration error made by the White House's contractor, Northrop Grumman Corp., during the MAIL2 repair caused another malfunction that prevented the capture of incoming Internet e-mail to users with first names starting with the letter 'D.'

Documentation was created for the capture process when the White House began using Notes. But both the system documentation and the source code were missing by 1997, GAO found. Until the source code was located in 1998 and another contractor recreated the system documentation in 1999, officials couldn't change the code or develop automated programs to monitor the interface, GAO said.

Free-lance writer Dennis Blank contributed to this report.

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