Though federal records laws make clear that the official records of the president and vice president are public and must, in general, be preserved, the Bush administration has not always done so. The Executive Office of the President must document all “activities, deliberations, decisions, and policies” that reflect the president’s duties, says the Presidential Records Act of 1978, and the president may dispose of records “that no longer have administrative, historical, informational, or evidentiary value,” only after clearing the decision with the Archivist of the United States. Rather than using government e-mail addresses, which would be archived automatically, 88 Bush administration officials were given Republican National Committee (RNC) e-mail addresses. Of those, the RNC preserved no e-mails for 51 officials and preserved only some of the e-mails of the 37 other officials. By using these external addresses for official business, White House officials circumvented requirements of both the Presidential Records Act and the Federal Records Act and, as a result, oversight committees, litigators, and historians will be denied a chance to get a full and accurate view of the administration’s actions and decision-making processes. The White House press office did not respond to a request for comment, but, when this failure came to light, the White House conceded the error: “I will admit it,” spokeswoman Dana Perino said. “We screwed up.”
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform continues to investigate the missing e-mails. A federal judge has ordered the White House to preserve all hard drives, tape backups, servers, and other media that may contain the missing e-mails, in response to a lawsuit by the National Security Archive, an independent research institute at The George Washington University.