The latest twist is that on April 8 Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter to McLaughlin seeking information on how the whole episode jibes with the requirement of the Presidential Records Act and the Electronic Message Preservation Act. "The fact that you sought to communicate privately with a select group of individuals, many of whom possess significant influence in industry and government, with your Gmail account raises the specter that you were attempting to circumvent the laws associated with openness and transparency," Issa writes.
Among the questions the congressman wants answered by April 22 are: What is the OSTP policy for ensuring that all messages sent or received by White House staff on private, non-governmental e-mail accounts are preserved according to law? And, who makes the decision about whether an e-mail is categorized as a presidential record?
Issa should be aware that just three months ago, White House CIO Brook Colangelo provided a detailed update on the e-mail storage and archiving system used by the Executive Office of the President for unclassified e-mail. In that document, Colangelo noted that White House staff do not have the ability to access personal e-mail accounts through the EOP network because it "blocks all known Web-based external e-mail systems."
All of which raises a few questions beyond those that Issa has put on the table:
What is OSTP policy for use of Web-based mail systems by White House and other government employees?
Given that the EOP network blocks Web-based e-mail, is it possible for White House employees to use such systems from their offices or mobile devices using some kind of workaround?
Should McLaughlin recuse himself from policy making in this area until the dust settles on his use of Gmail in this matter?
The backdrop for all of this is that government employees, like those in the private sector, are using a range of Web tools to get things done in a work environment that increasingly blurs their professional and personal lives. As Congressman Issa seeks clarification on what types of correspondence get classified as presidential records, he may find such distinctions are harder to draw among our Blackberry-equipped, always-connected federal officials.
Attend a virtual event on how cloud computing surpasses its architectural predecessors in the IT field, and discuss specific business advantages that have emerged from these dynamically scalable, highly virtualized environments. It happens April 20. Click here to find out more and register.