State Department Inconsistent on E-Mail Records, Watchdog Says

The Great Seal of the United States is seen on the center of the ceiling in the Benjamin Franklin State Dining room at the US Department of State Feburary 7, 2014 in Washington, DC.

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. State Department’s policy for retaining key e-mails has been inconsistently followed, an inspector general said in a report issued a day after former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended her use of a private e-mail.

“The absence of centralized oversight allows for an inconsistent application of policy,” according to the report released Wednesday by the State Department’s Office of Inspector General.

The watchdog examined the department policy for preserving “record e-mails,” or communications that document policy formulation, help officials respond to congressional questions or protect officials from financial or legal challenges, according to the report.

The State Department created 41,749 record e-mails from more than 1 billion messages sent by employees in the U.S. and at embassies, according to the report that studied compliance in 2013 on keeping records of policy discussions and important meetings.

Compliance varied across units, according to the report. The consulate in Lagos, Nigeria, created 4,922 record e-mails, the most of any foreign post, while the embassy in Beijing created 47. In Washington, the secretary’s office created 7, the public affairs office generated 29 and human resources made 99, according to a chart in the watchdog’s report.

Mandatory Retention

“The department does not give employees adequate training to distinguish between information that should be preserved as records and information that may be discarded,” according to the report. “Some employees were under the impression that record e-mails were only a convenience; they had not understood that some e-mails were required to be saved as records.”

Clinton’s e-mails while in office are under scrutiny after she disclosed using a personal account rather than a government e-mail address. The Obama administration in 2011 ordered department heads to conduct official business on government accounts.

Clinton, who was secretary of state from 2009 until February 2013 and is preparing a presidential campaign, said she turned over to the department paper copies of 30,490 e-mails relating to government business from her tenure. An additional 31,830 personal messages -- including yoga routines and condolence messages -- were deleted, she said.

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