White House Email Archiving
When the Bush White House offices switched email systems from Lotus Notes to Microsoft Exchange in 2002, no new automated archiving system was put into place. As a result, two private groups—Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and George Washington University’s National Security Archive (the Archive)—sued believing that the Bush White House failed to properly archive millions of White House email messages, violating federal records law.
This week the Obama administration released details about its archiving of unclassified White House email, as part of the settlement of the lawsuit. The suit prompted the government to work on email recovery. “We have done our best in this case to maximize the number of emails that have been found or reconstructed from disaster recovery backup tapes,” explains Kristen Lejnieks, counsel for the Archive. “The government can now find and search over 22 million more emails than they could in late 2005. They also will restore 94 calendar days from backup tapes. We certainly hope that many major gaps in the record have been filled.”
In December the Archive, CREW and the White House and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) entered into an agreement establishing general principles to resolve the missing White House email that has dragged on since 2007. “We commend the Obama Administration for making a strong effort to clean up the electronic data mess left behind by the prior administration,” commented Sheila Shadmand, counsel for the Archive from Jones Day.
Adds Meredith Fuchs, the Archive’s general counsel, “We now know that many poor choices were made during the Bush Administration and there was little concern about the availability of email records despite the fact that they were contending with regular subpoenas for records and had a legal obligation to preserve their records for the nation’s long term historical memory.”
The suit was instrumental in White House email records management, impacting:
- The lawsuit ensured the preservation of all media during the presidential transition that contained emails from March 2003 through October 2005.
- The lawsuit drew attention to the poor backup system utilized by the White House Office of Administration for the Executive Office of the President and helped lead to implementation of more reliable practices.
- EOP/OA completely revamped its process for allocating messages to presidential and federal records components at the White House so that future records searches will be more accurate.
- At the completion of restoration efforts, the lawsuit resulted in the restoration of 94 days worth of emails from disaster recovery backup tapes—likely adding hundreds of thousands of unique messages to NARA’s archive.
- The lawsuit paved the way for a new email archiving system currently in use at the White House.
Backup tapes will continue to be preserved for 12 years after the settlement of the suit, ensuring that the data remains available to the public.
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