White House details new e-mail archiving system

Info released under settlement agreement for lawsuit over Bush White House e-mail retention practices

The Obama administration has released details about its archiving system for unclassified White House e-mail messages as part of a settlement agreement  with two private groups that sued the Executive Office of the President during the George W. Bush administration over electronic recordkeeping practices.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and George Washington University’s (GWU's) National Security Archive alleged in September 2007 that the Bush White House violated federal records law in failing to properly archive millions of White House e-mail messages between March 2003 and October 2005. The lawsuit, which also named the National Archives and Records Administration as a defendant, dragged on into the Obama administration.

As a result of the lawsuit, the government has recovered, sorted and properly categorized 22 million more e-mails messages than it could find in late 2005, according to the National Security Archive. The groups say the Bush administration’s e-mail retention problem started when Bush White House offices switched their e-mail systems from Lotus Notes to Microsoft Exchange in 2002 and didn’t put in place a new automated archiving system.

The groups and the Obama administration announced last Dec. 14 that they had reached a settlement agreement for the case. Under the terms of that settlement, the White House sent CREW and the archive a letter on Jan. 15 detailing the Executive Office of the President’s current e-mail archiving and back up system.

Brook Colongelo, the chief information officer for the Executive Office of the President's (EOP's) Office of Administration, said the EOP has used EMC Corp.’s EmailXtender as its e-mail storage system for its unclassified network since Obama took office. Colangelo said in the letter that the system:

  • Is a secure, single, centrally managed e-mail archive.
  • Automatically captures messages, including those sent or received via BlackBerry mobile handsets in near real time,
  • Can be extracted into a format for transfer to NARA’s next-generation Electronic Records Archive.
  • Archives messages in original formats with attachments.
  • Does regularly scheduled, automated back-ups.
  • Provides weekly automated audit reports.
  • Can segregate e-mails by component to differentiate between records that are covered by the Presidential Records Act and those that are covered by the Federal Records Act.

Colangelo said the system provides broad search capabilities and dashboard reports on the system’s functionality are monitored around the clock at the EOP’s network operations center. The system is stored in an off-site and secure location, Colangelo added.

CREW and the archive indicated they were pleased with the system that the White House described. “The White House appears to be approaching its record preservation obligations with greater conscientiousness than during the last administration,” Meredith Fuchs, the Archive’s general counsel, said in a statement.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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