Year 2000 bug stalled White House e-mail fix

The problem of lost White House e-mail is being pinned on the millennium


Hundreds of thousands of e-mail messages were lost because of glitches

in the White House's Mail2 server between 1996 and 1998. But reconstruction

of the records management system that will be used to recover the lost e-mail

was put on hold last year to deal with Year 2000 compliance, a presidential

aide said last week.

"Mail2 was one problem that was set aside for Y2K," said Michael Lyle,

director of the Executive Office of the President's Office of Administration

during a May 3 hearing of the House Government Reform Committee. "At the

EOP, the Y2K crisis was the most difficult IT project ever faced."

A case-sensitive glitch, embedded in the system in 1996 and corrected

by November 1998, allowed incoming White House e-mail messages to slip through

undetected, leaving Congress and the Justice Department without e-mail evidence

in matters related to campaign finance, "Filegate" and the Monica Lewinsky

sex-and-perjury scandal.

Republicans on the House committee, led by chairman Dan Burton (R-Ind.),

have accused the White House of stalling and covering up the e-mail problem.

But Lyle said the only reason his department did not ask for appropriations

sooner to fix the system was because the department's "singular purpose

was Y2K."

Lyle said his office is working to reconstruct the e-mails "as quickly

as we can." The office has hired a contractor to perform the task and is

within days of hiring an independent validation and verification firm for

the project, he said.

The committee also interviewed Karl Heissner, branch chief of systems

integration and development at the EOP's Office of Administration. Burton

and his GOP counterparts questioned Heissner about the meaning of the phrase

"let sleeping dogs lie" that Heissner put at the end of a February 1999


The Republicans indicated that Heissner's comment referred to the e-mail

recovery effort and that he could be subject to obstruction-of- justice

charges. However, Heissner, who has worked in the federal government as

a computer specialist since 1975, said that the reference was in regard

to a recent slowdown in information requests from Congress.

Heissner said information requests from Congress and other litigants

with the government had slowed down early last year after the campaign finance

reform and other scandals had died down. He said he didn't want his supervisor

to bring any "undue attention" to it in appropriation requests.

"I had no intention or attempt to obstruct justice at any time," Heissner

said. "The information requests had a negative effect on operations and

took away considerable time from a very small staff."


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