The revelation that former secretary of State and likely presidential candidate Hillary Clinton conducted State Department business using private emails is only the latest in a string of such disclosures: leaders at the Internal Revenue Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Chemical Safety Board have also used personal accounts for work.
A new survey of high-level agency executives from Government Executive Media Group’s research arm shows that the practice appears relatively common, even though it likely violates the 1950 Federal Records Act, as updated to reflect the digital age.
Thirty-three percent of 412 respondents to the mid-February online survey by the Government Business Council confirmed that personnel in their agency use personal email for government business at least sometimes, 15 percent said employees use it always or often and 48 percent said colleagues use it rarely or never.
The percentage of Defense Department civilian employees surveyed who said their colleagues use personal email for work communication at least sometimes was 41 percent, 11 points higher than the 30 percent of the non-Defense employees who said their colleagues did so.
The respondents—volunteer readers of Government Executive, DefenseOne and Nextgov—were at the GS/GM-11 to GS/GM-15 grade levels and in the Senior Executive Service. Forty-seven percent said they don’t know whether or not personal emails regarding government business are normally preserved for archiving in their department or agency; 31 percent indicated they are not preserved.
The National Archives and Records Administration is charged with enforcing the Federal Records Act and Office of Management and Budget requirements that include email and instant messages. In response to the news about Clinton's use of private email, the agency said in a statement that per usual procedure, it has “reached out to the State Department to ensure that all federal records are properly identified and managed in accordance with the Federal Records Act and that controls and procedures are in place to manage records effectively in the future.”
It noted that the 2014 Presidential and Federal Records Act Ammendments codified a previously existing ban on use of private email accounts by government officials “unless they copy or forward any such emails into their government account within 20 days.
Agencies, it added, are required to manage all email in an electronic form by the end of 2016, a goal the National Archives is helping agencies meet.
NARA proposed as part of President Obama’s fiscal 2016 budget an increase of $2.5 million and 17 new employees to enhance the agency's oversight of governmentwide electronic records management activities.
This initiative would provide NARA the ability to evaluate other federal agencies’ compliance, the budget said. New capabilities would include direct physical inspections; audits of agency recordkeeping systems; and enhanced data collection, analysis and reporting.
This story was updated with comment from the National Archives and Records Administration.