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Take it to the House: Committee Hears Testimony on “Missing” White House E-mails

February 28, 2008

We’ve been following the White House email story closely here at Surety and were very interested in this week’s Capitol Hill hearing on the issue. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, chaired by Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), heard testimony from five experts including the Theresa Payton, CIO for the Office of Administration, and the Honorable Allen Weinstein, Archivist of the United States, during its hearing on “Electronic Records Preservation at the White House.”

A 148 page preliminary transcript is available online for those interested in the full testimony; for those who don’t have time to read the transcript here are a few interesting points from a records management perspective:

• A written statement from Steven McDevitt, a computer expert who worked at the White House until 2006, said that a study by White House technical staff turned up an estimated 1,000 days on which e-mail was missing

• McDevitt’s statement also asserted that the White House e-mail system has major security flaws including a function that allowed everyone on the White House computer network to access email of each other. According to McDevitt, the flaw’s “potential impact” was that any email in the White House system could have been altered without being detected.

• McDevitt also wrote that the White House has no complete inventory of e-mails files and did not have an automatic system to ensure that e-mails were archived and preserved.

• Representative Tom Davis (R – Va.) states that a large portion on the “missing” e-mails were not missing but rather “just filed in the wrong digital drawer”

• Payton, noting that the report McDevitt supervised was flawed and unreliable, said the administration is “very energized about getting to the bottom of this.”

No matter which side you take it is clear that the proliferation of email has changed the process of archiving and preserving White House records. As many are discovering, the importance of proper email archiving and authentication cannot be overstated – whether you’re at the White House or running a small business from your own house.

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