Feds slow to archive email at State Department

Feds slow to archive email at State Department 

Posted: 4:27 pm Sunday, March 15th, 2015

By Jamie Dupree

Maybe the biggest lesson of the past week’s stories about email retention and the federal government is pretty simple – most of us were wrong to assume that the State Department was doing a basic job at preserving most emails for the permanent record.

Instead, that’s just the “goal” of Uncle Sam right now.

As Hillary Clinton tried to rationalize the use of a private email server by saying that every email she sent to a State Department employee would have been automatically saved – she argued last week that it didn’t matter if she using a private email server.

“It was my practice to communicate with State Department and other government officials on their dot-gov accounts so those e-mails would be automatically saved in the State Department system to meet record keeping requirements, and that, indeed, is what happened,” Clinton told reporters.

Except, emails at the State Department were not being automatically saved during her four years as Secretary of State.

And those emails still aren’t being saved for most diplomatic workers in 2015.

What’s really happening with State Department electronic mail

Last week, the State Department acknowledged emails were only saved when it was done proactively by employees; only in February was the practice of automatic email archiving extended to senior diplomatic officials.

“Our goal actually is to apply an archiving system that meets these same requirements to all employee mailboxes by the end of 2016,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

“The timeline for that has long been the end of 2016,” Psaki told reporters.

As odd as that sounds – she’s right – the latest “Guidance on Managing Email” to the federal workforce urges all federal agencies to prepare for “all email to be managed electronically by December 31, 2016.”

But before that end of 2016 deadline, some of the details about email retention are somewhat sobering.

For example, in 2011, just over 61,000 emails were saved by State Department employees for the record, out of over one billion sent. By 2013, the number saved had dropped to just over 41,000.

As this blog detailed last week, the Office of the Secretary of State saved only 7 emails for the permanent record in 2013; that was the year that the Secretary’s emails began to be automatically archived.

When it comes to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, her decision to set up a personal email server is clearly an outlier among Cabinet officials.

Ironically though, that decision may have actually saved emails which otherwise would have been deleted automatically by the State Department email system – as Clinton has supposedly turned over thousands of emails to officials.

But obviously – many thousands of other emails were deleted by her team as well.

And why she set up that personal email server continues to be a point of debate.