"A court filing today reveals there may be gaps in the backup tapes the White House IT shop used to store email. It appears that messages from the crucial early stages of the Iraq War, between March 1 and May 22, 2003, can't be found on tape. So, far from exonerating the White House staffers, the latest turn of events casts an even harsher light on their email policies.
Things are not exactly perfect elsewhere in the federal government, either. A recent [report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO)] identified glaring holes in agencies’ antiquated email preservation techniques. Case in point: printing out emails and storing them in physical files."
You might think that laws requiring email archives are fairly recent. For corporations, they began with laws like Sarbanes-Oxley that the second President Bush signed into law back in 2002. However, it appears that laws for US Presidents to keep their emails were in force since 1993, back when the first President Clinton was in office. (we might as all get used to saying this in case we have a "second" President Clinton next January!)
In Ars Technica, Timothy B. Lee wrote [An elephant never forgets? George W. Bush's lost e-mails]. Here's an excerpt:
"The Federal Record Act requires the head of each federal agency to ensure that documents related to that agency's official business be preserved for federal archives. The Watergate-era Presidential Records Act augmented the FRA framework by specifically requiring the president to preserve documents related to the performance of his official duties. A [1993 court decision] held that these laws applied to electronic records, including e-mails, which means that the president has an obligation to ensure that the e-mails of senior executive branch officials are preserved.
In 1994, the Clinton administration reacted to the previous year's court decision by rolling out an automated e-mail-archiving system to work with the Lotus-Notes-based e-mail software that was in use at the time. The system automatically categorized e-mails based on the requirements of the FRA and PRA, and it included safeguards to ensure that e-mails were not deliberately or unintentionally altered or deleted.
When the Bush administration took office, it decided to replace the Lotus Notes-based e-mail system used under the Clinton Administration with Microsoft Outlook and Exchange. The transition broke compatibility with the old archiving system, and the White House IT shop did not immediately have a new one to put in its place.
Instead, the White House has instituted a comically primitive system called "journaling," in which (to quote from a [recent Congressional report]) "a White House staffer or contractor would collect from a 'journal' e-mail folder in the Microsoft Exchange system copies of e-mails sent and received by White House employees." These would be manually named and saved as ".pst" files on White House servers.
One of the more vocal critics of the White House's e-mail-retention policies is Steven McDevitt, who was a senior official in the White House IT shop from September 2002 until he left in disgust in October 2006. He points out what would be obvious to anyone with IT experience: the system wasn't especially reliable or tamper-proof."
So we have White House staffers manually creating PST files, and other government agencies printing out their emails and storing them in file cabinets. When I first started at IBM in 1986, before Notes or Exchange existed, we used PROFS on VM on the mainframe, and some of my colleagues printed out their emails and filed them in cabinets. I can understand how government employees, who might have grown up using mainframe systems like PROFS, might have just continued the practice when they switched to Personal Computers.
Perhaps the new incoming White House staff hired by George W. Bush were more familiar with Outlook and Exchange, and ratherthan learning to use IBM Lotus Notes and Domino, found it easier just to switch over. I am not going to debatethe pros and cons of "Lotus Notes/Domino" versus "Microsoft Outlook/Exchange" as IBM has automated email archiving systems that work great for both of these, as well as also for Novell Groupwise. So, taking the benefit of the doubt,when President Bush took over, he tossed out the previous administration's staff, and brought in his own people, andlet them choose the office productivity tools they were most comfortable with.Fair enough, happens every time a new President takes office. No big surprise there.
However, doing this without a clear plan on how to continue to comply with the email archive laws already on the books, and that it continues to be bad several years later, is appalling. I can understand why business are upset in deploying mandated archiving solutions when their own government doesn't have similar automation in place.
technorati tags: James Rogers, Washington, White House, Iraq War, Sarbanes-Oxley, George W. Bush, incompetence, Timothy B. Lee, Steven McDevitt,elephant, Federal Record Act, email, e-mail, archive, IBM, Lotus, Notes, Domino, Microsoft, Outlook, Exchange, Novell, Groupwise,