Congress continues probe into missing e-mails

Despite urging from House Democrats, the administration has yet to collect server backup tapes from the Republican National Committee for an investigation into whether government business was conducted from members' e-mail accounts and improperly preserved. Bipartisan lawmakers debated the merits of digging up such information at a hearing Tuesday.

The squabble between Democrats and Republicans occurred during a hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee about the preservation of electronic records by the White House, which has been under fire since a 2005 analysis identified more than 700 days in which e-mail records were either unrealistically low in number, or nonexistent. Lawmakers also have raised questions about high-ranking administration officials using RNC e-mail accounts to potentially conduct government business. The 1978 Presidential Records Act requires that such electronic documents be archived, but the RNC reported that it did not preserve any e-mails for more than 50 officials, and saved few e-mails for 30 other officials before fall 2006.

Theresa Payton, chief information officer for the White House's Office of Administration, reiterated previous claims that backups for all e-mails missing from the White House systems should exist, but that she wouldn't know for sure until a full analysis was completed. Payton said that while a re-inventory is nearly finished, more than 17 million e-mails are not attributed to specific "components," such as individual e-mail accounts. She estimated the cost of the entire project will reach $15 million or more.

Payton said the investigation into missing RNC e-mails is not part of the analysis because it is outside the jurisdiction of the Executive Office of the President. The White House has made no effort to acquire any RNC backup tapes.

"The White House has the responsibility to preserve e-mails, and if some of those are at RNC, the White House has the responsibility to get them," Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said, pointing out that then-White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove used his RNC account to send more than 95 percent of e-mails between 2001 and 2003 -- during the same period that the administration was making a case for invading Iraq. "It looks like the White House has done nothing [to track down these e-mails]," Waxman said.

Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., ranking member on the House Government Reform panel, recommended that the Office of Administration release some "hard and fast rules" that outline guidelines for preserving electronic records created on nongovernment systems.

Other House Republicans argued amid testimony that Congress should not assume e-mails sent from RNC accounts involved government business, arguing that the messages could have been of a political nature -- such as campaign strategies -- and therefore not legally permitted on government systems under the 1939 Hatch Act. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said evidence of presidential records on the RNC's systems should be present before Congress demands the backup tapes. "Do any of you know of inappropriate activity? [Or] is this a fishing expedition?"

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.