White House office ordered to search for e-mail messages

A federal judge today ordered officials of the Executive Office of the President (EOP) to search the workstations of people who worked in that office from March 2003 through October 2005 for millions of e-mail messages that two groups suing the White House allege were lost during that time period.

Judge Henry Kennedy of United States District Court for the District of Columbia also ordered officials of that office to collect and preserve any e-mail messages that were sent or received during that period. EOP officials are also to collect from the office's employees any electronic media that may contain e-mail messages from that time and preserve them.

The order comes just days before the inauguration, when presidential documents are to be handed over to the National Archives for safekeeping to comply with the Presidential Records Act.

Today’s order for extended preservation stems from litigation brought by George Washington University’s National Security Archive.

The organizations alleged that the Bush administration violated the Federal Records Act (FRA) by not recovering, restoring and preserving electronic communications and establishing an electronic records management system that complies with the FRA. The messages that allegedly were lost are from a time that includes the invasion of Iraq, key developments in the Valerie Plame leak investigation and the government's response to Hurricane Katrina.

“In six days, the Bush Executive Office of the President will be gone and their records may disappear with them,” Tom Blanton, the university archive’s director, said in a statement. “The White House will complain about the last minute challenge, but this is a records crisis of the WH own making.”

A White House spokeswoman said in an e-mail message that officials were reviewing the order and will comply. The Bush administration argued that the case should be dismissed; however, Kennedy ruled last November that the case could move forward.

The university archive’s lawsuit and a similar one by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington were filed in September 2007 and have since been consolidated.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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