George W. Bush’s Lost Emails

by on April 30, 2008 · 9 comments

Over at Ars, I have an in-depth look at the White House’s email troubles. The administration is either spectacularly incompetent or going out of its way to avoid complying with the law:

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…

These deficiencies were repeatedly brought to the attention of White House systems administrators. In 2002 and 2003, they attempted to retrofit the old, Lotus Notes—based archiving system to work with the new Exchange-based email system. When this effort failed, they awarded a contract to Booz Allen Hamilton to design a new system, and to Unisys to implement it. According to McDevitt, the new system was set up and configured during 2005 and was “ready to go live” in August 2006. But the White House CIO, Theresa Payton, reportedly aborted the project in late 2006, citing perceived inadequacies with the system’s performance and its ability segregate official presidential correspondence from political or personal materials. McDervitt resigned in protest soon afterwards.

Payton claims that the White House is working on yet another archiving system. But until it’s completed—and it’s now looking increasingly unlikely that it will be operational before the end of the administration—the White House will lack an automated system for complying with the requirements of federal law.

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