Preventing Another Federal E-Mail Fiasco

In this day and age, there is no reason that any federal e-mail should ever be deleted.

Transparency issues.

Photographer: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Hillary Clinton finally gave a news conference to explain ... oh, let's not resort to the dull cliche of Emailgate; instead, let us call it L'Affaire E-mail. Politics watchers won't have learned much that was new, except that the former secretary of state says she has destroyed all the e-mail that wasn't turned over to the State Department. Which means we will never learn about the details of Chelsea Clinton's wedding plans, or her yoga routines ... or be able to check whether her definition of "personal" jibes with the one that a private citizen, or a State Department lawyer, might use.

When questioned on this, Clinton retorted that this is how all federal record-keeping works: Officials determine for themselves what constitutes a record that must be kept under the law. This rather underplays the problems with her system -- among other things, Clinton's decision to keep her e-mails on a private server meant that they were invisible to FOIA requests. But it does highlight a real problem with the federal records-keeping rules, one that should change.

In this day and age, there is no reason that any federal e-mail should ever be deleted. Storage is cheap, and if taxpayers can pay millions for farm subsidies, they can certainly afford a few million for electronic storage. Federal employees should be forbidden to discuss any government business over private e-mail, and every e-mail they ever send or receive through the federal system, down to office memos about cleaning out the break-room fridge, should be preserved for future researchers and investigators.

Would this be a bit of a hassle for federal record-keepers? Sure. But a minor one. And the alternative of allowing federal employees to delete records of their communications at will is far more costly to the sound operations of the government.

This wouldn't do anything about Hillary Clinton herself, of course. But it would make it more difficult for future federal employees to operate without the accountability that good government demands.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.