Late Monday night, the State Department released 7,000 more pages of work-related e-mails that Hillary Rodham Clinton sent from a non-government account during her time as secretary.
The ongoing Clinton e-mail controversy – that she used a private server for all her State Department business and that some of those exchanges might have been classified – has cast a bright light on the e-mailing practices of government workers.
Last week, Alfresco, a California-based software company, released the results of a sweeping survey on workplace behavior. Included near the end was a particularly timely question: “How frequently do you use a personal email account for work email?”
About 150 people who answered identified themselves as working for the federal government. A majority (of that albeit small sample size) said they don’t ever mix their work communications with their private ones. But around one-third of the respondents said they did, the survey found. And 9 percent, like Clinton, claim they “always” use a personal e-mail for work.
This didn’t surprise Jason R. Baron, a lawyer at Drinker Biddle & Reath who is a former director of litigation at the National Archives and Records Administration.
“The record keeping rules are unfortunately not known by everyone at an agency,” he said. And the flexibility of telework makes it easier for employees to skip the step of signing into a government account remotely if using, say, Gmail is simpler.
Baron doesn’t believe those employees who use personal e-mail are intentionally trying to skirt the rules, but that it’s simply a reality of how we communicate today.
And, remember, it’s permissible as long as they then take the extra step of submitting the correspondence to their agency’s official record-keeping system.
Though Clinton was certainly not the only person in the federal government using a private e-mail to discuss official work, Baron said her situation is unique, particularly at her level, because she intentionally set up an exclusive e-mail server, making it far more likely that at least some official records wouldn’t be properly preserved.
And yet, the government e-mail rules may not be explained thoroughly enough at any level. As Monday night’s Clinton e-mail release showed, even she was murky on the classification protocols.
Our colleagues spotted one exchange with an aide where Clinton is frustrated that an aide was having trouble e-mailing her a public statement by former Prime Minister Tony Blair because it had been entered into the State Department’s system for exchanging classified information, making it impossible to forward.
“It’s a public statement!” she wrote. “Just e-mail it to me.”