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System Management Engineering, another Executive Office of the President contractor, does system design and consultancy work for the White House but has never had system management responsibilities, according to CEO Herbert Quinn. The Reston, Va.-based solution provider currently has a three-year IT services contract with the Executive Office of the President that will end in 2008, Quinn said.
"We don't work at the micro level. Our assignment there is as an enterprise architect. We design systems, we don't manage systems," he said.
Attorneys for two non-profit organizations that have filed lawsuits against the Executive Office of the President, the White House Office of Administration and other relevant agencies and officials over the alleged violations confirm the Unisys spokesperson's claim.
"My understanding is that the audits started after this thing exploded," said Meredith Fuchs, an attorney for the National Security Archive, a non-profit public research institute and library based at George Washington University. The archive, which collects and publishes declassified and unclassified government documents for the public domain, filed suit Sept. 5 in Washington, D.C., against the Executive Office of the President, the White House Office of Administration, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the head of the Office of Adminstration, and the Archivist of the United States.
Anne Weismann, chief counsel for private watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), said much the same.
"On the contractor issue, my info is that through 2005, when they discovered the problem, there was no daily archiving or monitoring. It may be that once they discovered the problem, there may have been a contractor brought on," Weismann said.
The National Security Archive and CREW lawsuits paint a picture of a White House that gave low priority to compliance with its archival duties under the law. The research institute alleges that the Executive Office of the President abandoned the automated record management system (ARMS) built by the previous administration to securely archive e-mails in 2002, never implementing another system for that purpose. The time period for the abandonment of the legacy archival system coincides with the Executive Office of the President's switch from Lotus Notes to Microsoft Exchange and Outlook, referred to by White House Press Secretary Dana Perino in an April 13 press briefing.
"In 2002, they abandoned Lotus Notes, went to Microsoft Outlook, abandoned ARMS, but never put in a new electronic records management system. So I'm told they just dumped e-mail on servers. This meant that anybody with access to the servers could potentially dump data and delete documents," said Weismann.
"Each agency of the EOP's records are commingled. It's all just a dump. How much is missing? I think 5 million is the low end of what's missing."
Interestingly, NARA's total agency IT investments went from $36 million in 2001 to $62 million in 2002, according to the Clinger Cohen Act Report on Federal Information Technology Investments. Drilling deeper, NARA's budget for IT development, enhancement and modernization (DME) shot up from $3 million to $17 million in that year-on-year period. Budget numbers for later years could not be confirmed.
Yet in the year following the near-doubling of its IT budget, NARA suddenly seemed incapable of preventing massive data loss in the form of millions of e-mails.
Meanwhile, the Oversight Committee is also investigating the use of Republican National Committee e-mail services by White House staff members, following allegations that RNC e-mail was used for official communications to avoid archiving under the Presidential Records and Federal Records acts. The Bush administration has countered that RNC e-mail was used to comply with the Hatch Act's provisions against campaigning with public resources by federal civil servants.
"The truth is that every presidency that has had e-mail, has had problems with keeping e-mail records. But for this administration, it's particularly bad. Here we are, the most powerful nation in the world, and the idea that we wouldn't be preserving our history is just astounding," said Fuchs.