Records Management

Chaffetz, Cummings push White House on records

Shutterstock image (by Tim Masters): okay sign emerging from a pile of shredded papers. 

Top oversight lawmakers want answers from the Trump White House and 55 federal agencies about their compliance with federal record-keeping laws.

In letters to the White House and to the agencies, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) raised questions about reports that federal employees -- and White House staff -- may be circumventing federal laws by using unofficial electronic communications, such as private e-mail and encrypted messaging apps.

In the letter to White House General Counsel Donald McGahn, the lawmakers raise concerns about the deletion of tweets from President Donald Trump's two Twitter accounts, which "could pose a violation of the Presidential Records Act" if not first properly archived.

"The statute explicitly applies to the President and the Vice-President," the lawmakers write. "To avoid this problem, the Obama Administration instituted auto-archiving capabilities on its Twitter accounts."

In February, Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) wrote to the White House about the reported use of non-governmental email accounts by four high-ranking White House officials. The senators also raised concerns about Trump's use of his unencrypted Android phone.

In both letters, the lawmakers stress that "official business must be conducted in such a way as to preserve the official record of actions taken by the federal government and its employees."

While the lawmakers acknowledge that encrypted messaging apps such as Signal, Confide and WhatsApp could offer protection against cyber breaches, "the need for data security ... does not justify circumventing requirements established by federal recordkeeping and transparency laws."

The letter to the White House requests information on any senior officials who have used "an alias email account" for official business, policies governing electronic communications, archiving procedures and systems, as well as any personnel training practices relating to the Presidential Records Act.

The letter to the federal agencies requests similar information pertaining to the Federal Records Act, as well as each agency's compliance status regarding the Office of Management and Budget's Managing Government Records Directive.

The letter to agencies also seeks information on how they accommodate Freedom of Information Act requests for documents stored on private e-mail accounts, social media platforms or other non-official communication mediums.

The lawmakers requested answers from both the White House and agencies by March 22.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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