House Oversight Committee Holds Hearing on Missing White House E-Mails

On February 26, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing to investigate White House compliance with the Presidential Records Act. At issue was the extent of missing e-mails from White House servers from 2003-2005, and whether White House officials violated the Presidential Records Act by using e-mail accounts maintained by the Republican National Committee for official White House communications.

The biggest news was generated by the release of an interrogatory from Steven McDevitt, a former Information Technology Specialist who worked for the Chief Information Officer at the White House from 2002—2006. McDevitt stated there was a great deal of concern about proceeding with the migration of data from the old system to the new without having an adequate email records management solution in place. McDeVitt stated, “The process by which email was being collected and retained was primitive and the risk that data would be lost was high.”

Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein, Alan Swendiman, the Director of the White House’s Office of Administration, and Theresa Payton, Chief Information Officer at the White House provided testimony at the hearing.

During questioning from committee members it was revealed that the White House had repeatedly been non-responsive to requests from the National Archives to ensure recovery of missing e-mails and identifying current issues with preserving e-mails. The majority cited a September 5, 2007, memorandum from NARA General Counsel Gary M. Stern to Archivist Weinstein stating that “zero progress” had been made in planning for the transition and that NARA “still know[s] virtually nothing about the status of the alleged missing White House e-mails.”

When questioned about a 2005 analysis from the White House showing 473 days in which components of the Executive Office of the President had no e-mails, Ms. Payton stated that based on preliminary new findings that number is actually 202 days. However, she was unable to say when the data forensic work would be completed and when the e-mail restoration process would be finished. In response to questioning, she could not assure the committee that the work would be completed prior to the presidential transition on January 20, 2009.

With regard to the missing RNC e-mails, Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) alleged that over 80 White House officials routinely used e-mail accounts at the Republican National Committee. Waxman said the he RNC did not preserve e-mails for over 50 of these officials and has few e-mails for any White House officials prior to 2006.

Waxman stated the RNC had informed the committee that they had “no intention of trying to restore the missing White House e-mails.”