Press/Journalists
Press Release
January 6, 2000
Statement by the National Archives and Records Administration on the Loss of Electronic Copies of Certain Internal E-Mail Messages

College Park, MD. . .On January 6, 2000, the Washington Post published a story about the loss last summer by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) of some electronic messages. Here are the facts of the situation.

NARA operates its e-mail system in its Washington area facilities via several servers. On June 18, 1999, all electronic copies of e-mail messages on one of these servers (the "Madison" server) were lost. The loss, totaling approximately 43,000 electronic copies of e-mail messages, less than 1 percent of the agency's annual e-mail, affected approximately 5 percent of NARA's staff, whom we notified of the loss in the July 1999 issue of the NARA Staff Bulletin. The electronic messages apparently had been deleted inadvertently. The far greater problem was that we could not restore the messages to the system because of incomplete backup tapes, which were to be maintained by the staff of the firm with which we contract to maintain our system.

There was no loss of any of the historical holdings held in trust by NARA. They are protected separately off-line in preservation storage. Therefore, no records of other federal agencies were affected, nor were any Presidential, Congressional, or court records affected.

The lost electronic messages were entirely current e-mail sent to and/or from NARA's staff. We believe that little if any significant information was lost that is not otherwise documented in NARA's official recordkeeping system. This is because, in accordance with standard NARA practice pending the development of dependable electronic recordkeeping systems, we print out on paper and file for safekeeping e-mail messages warranting retention as official federal records.

Nonetheless, we were concerned, particularly when we could not restore the messages because of incomplete backup tapes. To assess the problem and its extent, we took action in three ways:

  1. We directed the contractor to investigate.
  2. We undertook an independent internal investigation.
  3. We asked the NARA Inspector General to evaluate NARA's backup operations and procedures not only in the Washington area but in our facilities nationwide.

The following remedial actions followed these investigations:

  1. The contractor fired personnel who had responsibility for backup of the tapes.
  2. We purchased new backup software and implemented new backup procedures.
  3. We instituted backup and recovery audits to ensure that complete, accurate, and restorable backups are made.
  4. We increased our oversight of the contractor on network operations and maintenance.

Electronic records are vulnerable to risks of media deterioration and systems obsolescence as well as easy deletion. Development of effective and reliable electronic recordkeeping systems is a high priority for the management of the nation's Federal records. That is why NARA is aggressively pursuing a program of action to support the development of electronic recordkeeping systems.

For additional PRESS information, please contact the National Archives Public Affairs staff at (301) 837-1700 or by e-mail.

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