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When Congress asked about 5 million executive branch e-mails that went missing, a White House lawyer pointed the finger at an outside IT contractor.
The only problem? No such IT contractor exists, according to sources close to the investigation of a possible violation of the Federal Records and Presidential Records acts.
White House Office of Administration (OA) Deputy General Counsel Keith Roberts told the House Oversight Committee on May 29 that "an unidentified company working for the Information Assurance (IA) Directorate of the Office of the Chief Information Officer was responsible for daily audits of the e-mail system and the e-mail archiving process," according to committee chair Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. That briefing came about after it was confirmed by the White House in April that millions of e-mails had vanished from Executive Office of the President (EOP) archives from 2003-2005.
"Mr. Roberts was not able to explain why the daily audits conducted by this contractor failed to detect the problems in the archive system when they first began," wrote Waxman in an Aug. 30 letter to White House Counsel Fred Fielding. In that letter, Waxman requested that the White House provide the committee by Sept. 10 with an internal Executive Office of the President report on the e-mail system it said it prepared following the discovery of the missing e-mails, as well as the identity of the contractor responsible for daily audits and archiving. That deadline has come and gone with no response from the Bush administration on Waxman's request.
The offices of the president and vice president are required to preserve all official communications, including e-mail, by the Presidential Records Act, a Watergate-era law which establishes that such communications are the property of the American people and cannot be destroyed. The Federal Records Act covers the archiving of communications by other parts of the executive branch.
Contrary to Roberts' statement to the Oversight Committee, several sources, including an IT company currently doing contractual work for the Executive Office of the President, have told ChannelWeb that no outside company had a managed services contract to audit the Executive Office of the President's e-mail archiving system daily during the period when the e-mails went missing.
"There are many contractors working for the [Information Assurance] Directorate and no single one provided audit and archive functions," said a spokesperson for Unisys, an IT security and hardware firm which has provided the Executive Office of the President "with a variety of IT services that support the Office of Administration."
"We don't believe that Unisys is the Information Assurance Directorate contractor to which Deputy Attorney General Keith Roberts referred when he briefed Rep. Waxman's committee in May," said Lisa Meyer, director of public relations for the Blue Bell, Penn.-based company.
Meyer said Unisys worked on a contractual basis for the Executive Office of the President on specific IT projects rather than conducting ongoing management of systems or infrastructure.
"This is not a managed services contract. Rather, we operate at the direction of the government, performing tasks across the organization, not just for IA," she said.
Several calls to the White House for comment were not returned.