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State IG Confirms Longstanding and Widespread Personal Email Use by Secretaries of State and their Staff

May 25, 2016
Press Release

State IG Confirms Longstanding and Widespread Personal Email Use by Secretaries of State and their Staff

 

Report Finds Clinton Returned Emails, Powell Did Not

 

Washington, D.C. (May 25, 2016)—Today, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, issued the following statement in response to a report issued by the Inspector General of the State Department on the email practices of several previous Secretaries of State:

“The Inspector General confirmed what we have known all along – that Secretary Clinton followed the practice of her predecessor when she used a personal email account.  While Secretary Clinton preserved and returned tens of thousands of pages of her emails to the Department for public release, Secretary Powell returned none.  Republicans need to stop wasting taxpayer dollars singling out Secretary Clinton just because she is running for President.  If Republicans really care about transparency, they will work constructively with Democrats to focus on fixing what this report shows are longstanding, systemic flaws in the State Department’s recordkeeping practices for decades.”

IG Found Longstanding Recordkeeping Problems at State

The State IG’s report found:  “Longstanding, systemic weaknesses related to electronic records and communications have existed within the Office of the Secretary that go well beyond the tenure of any one Secretary of State.”   

For example, the State IG identified more than 90 Department employees under Secretary Powell and Secretary Rice who used personal email accounts for official business:

“OIG reviewed the Department email accounts (.pst files) of senior Department employees who served on the immediate staffs of Secretary Powell and Secretary Rice between 2001 and 2008. Within these accounts, OIG identified more than 90 Department employees who periodically used personal email accounts to conduct official business, though OIG could not quantify the frequency of this use.”

IG Found Secretary Clinton was Only Former Secretary to Turn Over Emails

The State IG’s report found that Secretary Clinton was the only former Secretary of State to preserve and return her emails to the Department:

“Former Secretary Clinton did not use a Department email account and has acknowledged using an email account maintained on a private server for official business. As discussed above, in December 2014, her representative produced to the Department 55,000 hard-copy pages of documents, representing approximately 30,000 emails that could potentially constitute Federal records that she sent or received from April 2009 through early 2013.”

In contrast, the Report found that Secretary Powell did not preserve or return any emails:

“At a minimum, Secretary Powell should have surrendered all emails sent from or received in his personal account that related to Department business. Because he did not do so at the time that he departed government service or at any time thereafter, Secretary Powell did not comply with Department policies that were implemented in accordance with the Federal Records Act. In an attempt to address this deficiency, NARA requested that the Department inquire with Secretary Powell’s “internet service or email provider” to determine whether it is still possible to retrieve the email records that might remain on its servers.  The Under Secretary for Management subsequently informed NARA that the Department sent a letter to Secretary Powell’s representative conveying this request.  As of May 2016, the Department had not received a response from Secretary Powell or his representative.”

While the report found that both Secretaries did not follow department policy, the National Archives determined that Secretary Clinton’s return of her emails mitigated the records retention issue:

“NARA agrees with the foregoing assessment but told OIG that Secretary Clinton’s production of 55,000 pages of emails mitigated her failure to properly preserve emails that qualified as Federal records during her tenure and to surrender such records upon her departure.”

Secretary Rice Provides Conflicting Reports of Email Use

In response to questions from the Committee, the State Department revealed that former Secretary Condoleezza Rice claimed she used a state.gov email account:

“Secretary Rice indicated that she did not use a personal account for business.  She indicated she had a state.gov email account that she said she used sparingly.”

The State Department responded to questions submitted by the Oversight Committee that the Department does not have a single email from Secretary Rice:

“The Department does not have a collection of emails to or from Secretary Rice from which to produce records to the Committee.”

The Department also reported that it has no record of ever providing emails from Secretary Rice in response to any FOIA or Congressional requests.

The State OIG report, on the other hand, said that Secretary Rice and her staff told the OIG,  “the Secretary did not use either personal or Department email accounts for official business.”  This is inconsistent with what the State Department told the Committee previously.

The IG found that Secretary Rice’s staff used personal email for official business:

            “OIG received limited responses on questionnaires sent to former Secretary Rice’s staff.  Two staff recalled printing and filing emails, and only one acknowledged the use of personal email accounts for official business.  OIG received hard-copy and electronic records of Secretary Rice’s immediate staff and discovered that other staff who did not reply to the questionnaire did use personal email accounts to conduct official business.”   

Report Includes No Findings of Criminal Wrongdoing

The IG’s report does not substantiate Republican claims that Secretary Clinton somehow committed a crime by using personal email.  The report does not include any findings that Secretary Clinton engaged in criminal wrongdoing.   

IG Confirms Personal Email Use is Not Prohibited Under the Federal Records Act

The Federal Records Act requires employees to preserve federal records, but it does not prohibit the use of a personal email account.  The Archivist of the United States testified in October 2013 before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that NARA “discourages the use of private email accounts to conduct official business, but understands there are situations where such use does occur.”

Report Finds Widespread issues with Records Preservation in the Department of State and the Government:

The State IG report found that “print and file requirements not enforced” throughout the years:  

“S/ES staff told OIG that employees in the Office of the Secretary have printed and filed such emails only sporadically. In its discussions with OIG, NARA stated that this lack of compliance exists across the government. Although the Department is aware of the failure to print and file, the FAM contains no explicit penalties for lack of compliance, and the Department has never proposed discipline against an employee for failure to comply.

Republicans Should Address Systemic Flaws in Agency Recordkeeping Practices:  Ranking Member Cummings introduced the Electronic Message Preservation Act on May 14, 2015.  EMPA would require federal agencies to electronically save email records rather than relying on outdated “print and file” method of archiving records.  Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz committed to hold a Committee markup of the legislation, but it has not occurred to date.

Both Secretary Powell and Secretary Clinton’s Staff Believed Emails From the Secretaries Were Preserved

 The State IG report also demonstrated that both Secretary Powell’s staff and Secretary Clinton’s staff believed that the Secretaries’ emails would be captured on Department servers because the Secretaries had emailed other individuals within the department.  For example, the IG found that:

“Secretary Powell also stated that neither he nor his representatives took any specific measures to preserve Federal records in his email account. Secretary Powell’s representative told OIG that she asked Department staff responsible for recordkeeping whether they needed to do anything to preserve the Secretary’s emails prior to his departure, though she could not recall the names or titles of these staff. According to the representative, the Department staff responded that the Secretary’s emails would be captured on Department servers because the Secretary had emailed other Department employees.”  

Secretary Clinton’s staff provided a similar explanation in a letter to the IG:

“In a letter to the Department, her representative stated that it was the Secretary’s practice to email Department officials at their government email accounts on matters pertaining to the conduct of government business.  Accordingly, the representative asserted, to the extent that the Department retained records of government email accounts, the Department already had records of the Secretary’s email preserved within its recordkeeping systems.”

114th Congress