In the latest installment of the ongoing White House email retention saga, last week the White House told a federal magistrate judge that it doesn’t have computer backup tapes for data written before May 23, 2003, and that it can’t track the history of White House hard drives that might contain missing email messages. The White House is responding to demands for information in lawsuits brought by public interest groups seeking restoration of missing email messages and the implementation of an email retention system that will protect against future data loss.

If you’ve been following the White House’s email woes, you know that they stem from a decision early in the Bush administration to migrate from the Lotus/Domino system established during the Clinton years, which had automatic retention and backup, to Exchange Server, which didn’t support the Lotus retention system. Over the years, two different attempts by White House IT groups to resolve compatibility problems and set up an automated email archiving system have failed. A third attempt is apparently under way.

While White House IT Pros struggled to develop an automated system, a manual journaling archive process was established; over the years aides have been manually sorting millions of email messages into .pst files. We don’t have any articles on WindowsITPro about setting up a manual journaling process, because it would have no appeal to administrators seeking to avoid error and security problems. Here's some information on modern email archiving processes.

From the buzz on the Internet, it's clear there's a lot amazement at the White House email situation. A major problem is email security. Apparently, White House email messages were being sent via a non-governmental domain hosted on an email server not under the control of the federal government, raising the possibility of violating the Hatch Act and the Presidential Records Act of 1978. Over 50 administration officials used the private domain, known as gwb43.com, which was owned by the Republican National Committee and hosted by the RNC on its server. Wikipedia has more information.

Another problem is email retention and backup and restore. It’s feared that millions of White House email messages may not be retrievable. There are laws governing the retention of records, including email messages, of the executive branch. The Federal Records Act requires the head of each federal agency to ensure that documents concerning official business be preserved for federal archives. The Presidential Records Act requires the President to preserve documents related to the performance of his official duties.

At Windows IT Pro, we publish articles and information about products regularly for systems administrators concerned about staying compliant with a myriad of laws concerning email retention. Exchange administrators: What are your thoughts on the White House's archiving process? Do you have any advice for how they could do better? We want to hear from you!

This is not the only White House in recent years that’s experienced an email loss. Back in 2000 Windows IT Pro Magazine covered the story of vice-president Al Gore’s missing email messages.