Archives: Federal workers may use secret emails

WASHINGTON (AP) — Administration officials and other federal workers may continue to use secret government email accounts to conduct official business as long as the messages are safely preserved and turned over when they are sought under the Freedom of Information Act, the nation’s record-keeping agency said Tuesday.

New rules from the National Archives and Records Administration follow an Associated Press investigation earlier this year that found that some Obama administration political appointees used government email accounts that were not disclosed to the public or to congressional officials.

Lawmakers on oversight committees told the AP they were unfamiliar with the email addresses the AP identified in its investigation, including one for Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

On Tuesday, U.S. Archivist David Ferriero told a House oversight hearing that he doesn’t care how many email addresses government officials use. But Republican lawmakers said multiple email accounts, while could be useful for organizing large numbers of emails, may complicate efforts to pinpoint which accounts belong to whom.

Having separate accounts can put an agency in a difficult spot when it is compelled to search for and release emails as part of congressional or internal investigations, civil lawsuits and public records requests, in part because employees assigned to compile such responses would need to know what accounts even to search.

Secret accounts also drive perceptions that government officials try to hide actions or decisions.

The Freedom of Information Act allows anyone to compel the government to turn over copies of federal agency records. Exceptions include records that if made public would damage national security, violate personal privacy or expose business secrets or confidential decision-making in certain areas.

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