State Dept. Employees Only Retained .01 Percent Of Emails As FOIA-Able 'Official Records'
from the lol-'accountability' dept
With uncanny timeliness, the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General has released a report on the State Department’s email retention — or lack thereof. Not covered in the report is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email retention — or lack thereof. High-ranking State Department officials use a different email system (when not using personal accounts) that isn’t covered in this report.
Unfortunately, the lower-level officials and rank-and-file are abysmal at retaining emails subject to open records requests. In fact, they’re so far under abysmal as to not even register on the Excellent-to-How-do-these-people-still-have-jobs? scale.
First, we have this:
A 2009 upgrade in the Department of State’s system facilitated the preservation of emails as official records.
Then we have this:
In 2011, employees created 61,156 record emails out of more than a billion emails sent.
Then… we have this:
Employees created 41,749 record emails in 2013.
Assuming around a billion emails for both the years quoted, State Department employees have managed to retain only .01% of emails created as FOIA-able “official records.” Some of this is due to the lack of training or guidance on their responsibilities as public officials. But most of it is likely due to this, which is also related to the ongoing lack of training or guidance.
Some employees do not create record emails because they do not want to make the email available in searches or fear that this availability would inhibit debate about pending decisions.
“Inhibit debate.” What a bunch of cowards. So scared of the American public that they shirk their responsibilities to the people who put roofs over their heads, gas in their cars and pension checks in their mailboxes. It’s no surprise they haven’t received the necessary training and guidance. Everyone from the Secretary of State on down suffers from the same fear of accountability. If they’re not retaining records at the top level, those middle-managing aren’t going to feel too compelled to make sure every employee takes care to retain emails as official records. “Lead by example,” as the saying goes, and the example is… Hillary Clinton, etc.
The OIG discovered that, while every State Dept. office was pretty terrible about following retention rules, some were much worse than others.
The OIG team’s review of the Department’s records on record email use by missions and bureaus shows great variations (see Appendices C and D). For example, Embassy Singapore created 1,047 record emails in 2013; Embassy Islamabad created 121; and Embassy Beijing, only 47. Consulate General Lagos created 4,922 record emails, the most of any post in 2013.
The Department’s bureaus also vary widely in their use of record email. The Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs created 736 record emails in 2013; the Bureau of International Organizations, 311; the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, 26; and the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, only 22. IRM created 1,630 record emails, more than any other bureau in 2013.
Some bureaus increased usage when the OIG informed them that email retention could also work to their advantage. Not all paper trails are damning. Some are exculpatory. Certainly there are more of the former than the latter, hence the State Department’s general reluctance to keep any more than .01% of its emails in any given year.
The OIG also noted that there is no centralized oversight of this system. Unsurprising, considering no one seems to want the job. Even when given a system that makes retention easy, the State Dept’s staff — from top to bottom — has gone out of its way to avoid doing that very thing.
The OIG suggests further training, but that’s not going to make much of a dent in the ingrained culture of secrecy common to many government agencies. It also suggests a handful of other bureaucratic fixes, many of which will likely be listed as “in the works” or “unstarted” when the next OIG report rolls around.
As for the report itself, it’s quite possible this would never had been made public if not for recent events. It’s marked “Sensitive but Unclassified” and carries this since-stricken warning in the opening pages.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: This report is intended solely for the official use of the Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors, or any agency or organization receiving a copy directly from the Office of Inspector General. No secondary distribution may be made, in whole or in part, outside the Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors, by them or by other agencies of organizations, without prior authorization by the Inspector General. Public availability of the document will be determined by the Inspector General under the U.S. Code, 5 U.S.C. 552. Improper disclosure of this report may result in criminal, civil, or administrative penalties.
In other words, the secretive agency’s internal report about its transparency-thwarting was supposed to remain a secret. The OIG blows the lid off the agency’s willing failure to retain email records, and the State Department — with the OIG’s tacit approval — elects to keep constituents from learning how its government is actively working to keep them separated from records they have every right to demand.