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DOE Employees Use Personal Email Addresses For Work-Related Purposes

Department’s email practices sometimes make retrieval of records impossible

Department of Energy headquarters / energy.gov
• September 10, 2015 5:10 pm

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The Department of Energy lacks a proper email record keeping system, as some employees use personal accounts for work-related purposes, according to a new report.

The special report, released by the Department of Energy Office of Inspector General, says that the agency has failed to implement a process to guarantee that agency-related emails—considered federal records—are identified and managed to meet requirements. Under requirements established by the National Archives and Records Administration, federal agencies must have such policies in place to make sure federal records are properly stored.

Lack of proper management of federal records could hinder agency obligations, such as responding to requests made under the Freedom of Information Act or dispensing information that may needed for either law enforcement or litigation purposes.

There is no such system within the Energy Department, according to the report, which suggests that officials have viewed record management as a low priority. It has generally left up to each employee to determine whether an email is considered a federal record and to manage as such. However, department and contracted employees have not always been trained to identify, preserve, and dispose of electronic records.

The use of personal email accounts to conduct work-related tasks has been found to be extensive.

Officials have told the inspector general that there are no established guidelines saying that employees cannot not send or receive work-related emails through their personal accounts, which makes retrieval of records, in some instances, impossible.

"Department officials noted that guidelines within which employees could send or receive work-related email from their personal accounts had not been established, making archival and retrieval of potential records difficult or impossible," the report reads.

Although employees of the agency are permitted to use personal email addresses for work-related purposes, proper controls must be in place to ensure federal records are identified and retained, as federally required. The agency does not have these controls.

The inspector general says that the department "had not fully established the parameters within which such activities could be acceptably and securely achieved. As such, there was no assurance that electronic records critical to supporting agency functions were maintained in accordance with Federal regulations."

These issues, in part, were credited to a lack of coordination between programs within the agency.

"We determined that a lack of coordination among programs contributed to a number of weaknesses identified during our review," the report says. "For instance, there was significant confusion among the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) and Department programs as to which organizations were responsible for managing email records. Yet, many program officials we spoke with expressed their belief that it was the OCIO's responsibility. OCIO officials indicated that it was the programs' responsibility to manage their own records as they deemed necessary."

The Office of Management and Budget directed federal agencies to manage their email records using automated software applications no latter than the end of 2016, prompting the current review into the Energy Department’s email system. Problems within the system are found to date back to 2005.

Published under: Department of Energy