The little do-si-do between Congress and the White House over missing e-mails is apparently over. Cynics might predict the next steps will be a digging in of heels, followed quickly by threats to launch (and bungle) an investigation, or worse, appoint a special prosecutor.Recall earlier this week that the White House CIO told a congressional hearing that her office was "energized about getting to the bottom of this." This, of course being what happened to more than two years' worth of White House e-mails. During that same period, the administration was rotating the same backup tapes over and over, and also was using the Republican National Committee's e-mail system for official and nonofficial communication.
And here's where what little backup-and-recovery goodwill existed then deteriorated even more. The RNC told Congress yesterday it "has no intention of trying to restore the missing White House e-mails."
Jeez, who do they think they are? Iron Mountain?
Other details have also emerged. Sometime in 2002, the White House transitioned from Lotus Notes to Microsoft Exchange. That's also when it began the practice of manually naming and saving e-mails in .pst files on local servers. While intended as a short-term solution, this "journaling" method became the standard operating procedure.
It also drew criticism from the National Archives and Records Administration. "It's our view that the journaling function is not the ideal," said Gary Stern, an NARA attorney in this account. It's a mess, and it's not clear the political will is there to get to the bottom of it any time soon. CIO Theresa Payton has estimated it would take "millions" to do a full restore from a related agency's backup tapes.
I'm still having a hard time figuring out whether the White House has been sloppy or willfully negligent. Given the administration's penchant for secrecy and nondisclosure, I'm now leaning toward the latter explanation.
But even if it's sloppiness, it wouldn't be tolerated at any corporation in America (nor, I suspect, at many government agencies). Dismissals, fines, or worse would result. Instead, we're left with a different sort of dance -- a combination of parry, stonewall, and distort. It's a shameful way to manage backup and archiving in the highest office of the land.