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Republican asks White House for e-mail policy

Republican congressman Darrell Issa is asking the White House to clarify its e-mail preservation policy, even though he criticized inquiries into missing Bush White House e-mails.

A Republican congressman is calling on President Obama to ensure that all business-related e-mails from White House staff are appropriately preserved, including e-mails the staff sent from temporary Gmail accounts.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sent a letter to White House Counsel Gregory Craig on Thursday, raising the concern that e-mails sent through personal accounts may not be retained.

"It is incumbent that the new White House implement policies and processes to minimize the risk of losing e-mail subject to the Presidential Records Act," Issa said in his letter.

The Presidential Records Act mandates that all presidential records be preserved as public record. As the letter notes, "The challenges posed by retaining e-mail as required under the PRA have proved vexing for the last two White Houses."

The Bush White House came under fire for apparently losing millions of e-mails from 2003 through 2005. Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee pressed the White House last year to recover the e-mails, including some that were sent through Republican National Committee e-mail accounts. At the time, Issa was skeptical of the Democrats' attempt to recover the e-mails.

"Are we simply going on a fishing expedition at $40,000 to $50,000 a month?" he asked National Archives and White House officials at a hearing. "Do any of you know of a single document, because this committee doesn't, that should've been in the archives but in fact was done at the RNC?"

In his letter to the Obama White House, Issa specifically called into question e-mails sent from Gmail accounts the Obama team used before receiving their official White House e-mail addresses. The Gmail accounts were established so the communications staff could continue to send e-mails after the Obama transition office shut down its press office on Inauguration Day.

"Gmail users on the President's staff run the risk of incorrectly classifying their e-mails as non-records under the Act," Issa's letter said.

The letter asks the White House to answer seven questions by March 4, including what procedure exists for ensuring that messages sent or received on private, non-governmental e-mail accounts are properly categorized as presidential records or non-presidential records, who would make that decision, and what review process has been instituted for the process. It also asks about the status of the White House's new electronic archiving technology, which was still being installed in late 2008.

The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the letter.