July 9, 2008

GAO: Federal E-Mail Preservation Spotty

Legislation to standardize how the U.S. government preserves its mounting e-mail communications is sorely needed, a report says.

The Government Accountability Office said in a report released Tuesday that federal officials are inconsistent in how they preserve their e-mail records, creating significant gaps in the public record, The Washington Post reported.

The issue of e-mail preservation came to the fore Wednesday as the U.S. House of Representative prepared to vote on a bill requiring standardization of e-mail record keeping. The use of e-mails a means of communication within the U.S. government is soaring and federal agencies say they are struggling to determine which e-mails can be deleted and which must be preserved as public records, the newspaper said.

The GAO report concluded that current law is allowing broad discretion to the agencies to determine how e-mails are maintained, with quality varying widely.

The House legislation will impose upon government agencies to put in place a system to keep track of their e-mails and be able to retrieve them, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., told the Post. He has been investigating the disappearance of years' worth of e-mails generated by the Bush White House.