Former Googler in hot water over White House email practices

Former Googler in hot water over White House email practices

Summary: Well, I have to say, I never expected to find myself agreeing with Congressman Darrell Issa. Even a little.


Well, I have to say, I never expected to find myself agreeing with Congressman Darrell Issa. Even a little.

Missing Bush-era White House email messages

The last time Congressman Issa and I disagreed, it was when he was questioning the Bush administration's then-CIO Theresa Payton about how millions of White House email messages might have gotten lost.

At that time, in February 2008, Representative Issa was a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and was trying to make the case that Lotus Notes was dead as an excuse for why the Bush White House switched from using Notes and Domino and started doing email archiving with thousands of loose PST files. Seriously.

The statement that did him in was, "I wouldn't want to do business with somebody still using Lotus Notes or still using wooden wagon wheels."

Needless to say, IBM was not amused. Notes and Domino are high-performance enterprise systems and Issa was dead wrong (he later apologized). You can read my whole story about that hearing in the original OutlookPower article.

By the way, my day job is as editor of both OutlookPower and DominoPower, and both Outlook/Exchange and Notes/Domino are excellent systems, so I don't want to hear any guff about either Microsoft or Lotus in the TalkBacks.

Email transparency in the Obama administration

Anyway, Issa's once again questioning White House IT practices, but this time he's targeting Obama administration Deputy CTO Andrew McLaughlin.

Remember the buzz back when Google Buzz launched and Google, for some reason, decided to let everyone see everyone else' Buzz contact list? Well, apparently, this little oversight caught up with McLaughlin when it became apparent that McLaughlin's Buzz list in his White House job lists a whole hive of Google employees.

Now, you need to understand that the right wing is convinced Google is some sort of liberal puppet. They're often whining about Google News spotlighting liberal blogs. So when it appeared that McLaughlin is still friends with some people at his former employer, Issa expressed his concern. That's not where I agree with Issa. I'd expect a former Googler to talk with his old buddies in the same way I'd expect a former Halliburton CEO to stay in touch with his old colleagues.

But where I start to agree with Issa is his concern over the White House staffer's apparent use of Gmail as a communications tool that keeps the staffer's communication out of the eye of the Federal Records Act and the Presidential Records Act. Issa's claim is that McLaughlin could use Gmail to hide his communications and "evade transparency laws".

The Hatch Act strikes again

I, too, am concerned about McLaughlin's use of Gmail, but that's where Darrell and I part company. That's because of another law that requires McLaughlin (and almost everyone else at the White House) to use Gmail or anything but Executive Office of the President mail servers: the Hatch Act.

Anyone who ever read my book Where Have All The Emails Gone? about the missing White House email from the Bush years knows I consider the Hatch Act of 1939 antiquated and out-of-date. I'm not going to go into all the gory details here. If you want to learn more, you can now download the book for free and read it yourself.

Suffice it to say, the Hatch Act demands that all non-government communication not use government resources. So, for example, if McLaughlin wants to have lunch with an old Google buddy to discuss golf, he must use a service like Gmail.

Now here's where Issa and I completely disagree on policy. He wants all those non-EOP email records open for anyone to read (and, you know, find fault with). I've made a strong case that the Hatch Act has to be overturned or amended, and that White House staffers should be required to use secure EOP email for all their communication and specifically prohibited from using outside email (which travels over the unsecured Internet), even for purely personal correspondence.

Again, it's a long story described in detail in the book, but the problem with allowing White House staffers to use any form of personal email is that it is an enormous security risk at the most strategic command center in the world.

My recommendation to Representative Issa

Rather than going after McLaughlin over partisan transparency issues, instead focus on revising the Hatch Act. If the law required all email communication by White House staffers to go through government EOP servers, it would all be examined and archived as a side-effect of the Presidential Records Act and the Federal Records Act, and while we might not necessarily have transparency, we'd have accountability -- and security.

And yes, I know that leaves Facebook, Twitter, and IM as White House communications security and archiving issues -- we'll cover those in another article.

TalkBack, but be polite. I've discussed my White House email analysis with hundreds of both extremely liberal and extremely conservative radio hosts and in all instances, we've had pleasant, friendly and very interesting discussions. If you're friendly, it'll be good for you, too.

Topics: Collaboration, Google


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • Lotus notes is trash.... i have talked to many admins who have changed out.

    Everyone wants webmail now, no more fat clients, OWA rocks it. Sendmail also has some nice web interface add-ons.

    I have not heard one person who used lotus notes mention they loved it. Most either dislike it or hate it.

    Seems old and clunky to me. Course most of the people i still see using it... also have novell(barf).
    • Typical

      Sorry, I've used Notes and Outlook (and OWA) and Notes is superior--Outlook just got features Notes had 10 years ago. And this was in research labs working with things you haven't even seen yet.

      But these arguments are like religious wars -- everyone is convinced their's is the best. And as the author said, this is not a product debate.
    • MS/Lotus in talkbacks

      "I don?t want to hear any guff about either Microsoft or Lotus in the TalkBacks."

      What part of that did you not understand? Yet another MS mental midget!
    • Lotus Notes again in Boom!!!

      Lotus Notes comes again in Boom,lots of new applications development for users....
      Atul Kumar Mandvariya
  • Realy?

    Used both groupwise and lotus notes in the past and although I would say MS offerings are better products there not without merit.
  • Issa was right about Lotus Notes

    Issa was right about Lotus Notes. Anyone who has ever had the misfortune to use it knows this.

    Other than that, revising the Hatch Act is probably a wise move.
    • Didn't you read the actual article?

      Let's leave the products themselves out of the discussions. I'm a Microsoft guy now, but Lotus Notes is a phenomenal product... it's not the best at any one thing, but it's good at quite a few things. It's absolutely unbeatable as a truly non-relational database product, which has its own uses.

      Let's drop the product bashing and debate the actual policy, shall we?
  • RE: Former Googler in hot water over White House email practices

    I totally agree with your take. Good article. I like that you approach it factually as opposed politically. It's refreshing to see.
  • Google IS Evil

    Big Brother came...just a few years later than predicted.
    • Google is evil? The MOST evil?

      I don't see Google as "evil" anymore than I see IBM or MS or Oracle or OO.o et al, as being "evil". If Google is "evil", then nearly every other for-profit organization needing a bottom life for survival is also "evil". I bet there are many who simple feel they "know evil when they see it" and agree only because it somehow affected or might affect them someday (or not).
      Google is no more "evil" than is any other pro-active, forward-thinking for-profit organization in existence. Let's stop with the fanatic attempts are exaggerated silliness and get down to some serious descriptions and definitions of things that may need fixing. This place should be more of a think-tank than the place to bitch without verifiable information spewing.
  • Former Googler creates a LOT of opportunity

    Apparently the author's attempt to get the fanatic belly-achers to shut up for once has put most responders into the "nothing of any import to say" category. I find that interesting. A good, unbiased article without prejudice like this one is exactly what we need a lot more of!

    SO! I'm going to take a different tact; IBM, MS, Lotus, et al, be damned, they are simply background noise to the consideration that the Hatch Act, written in 1939 is obviously going to be in need of revision and maybe even some statements of re-application and scope. IFF that's the reg, that is, that makes the most sense to use, then it should go into consideration sooner than later. It's in fact one of only many hundreds, perhaps thousands, that are in the same boat.
    Our congress needs to stop feeling for money falling into their back pockets for awhile and concentrate on some actual, useful work that might (gasp) require a full day's work for a full week's efforts for a full month's paycheck or however often they're paid. They need to concentrate on doing some actual work for a change and this is as good a place for them to start as any. It is probably THE most intentionally ignorant, buzz-worded subject in the entire house; they need to address the issues from the floor up until they actually understand "what's up" with this "internet" thing. Buzz words simply are not enough anymore.
  • You will see it more an more

    Our government is not going to hold itself liable to
    anyone inside of this country outside of the Federal

    This is just another example of how information will
    be misplaced, lost, or otherwise destroyed without any
    fear of recourse.

    It is obviously not an issue with Domino, which easily
    could have been Exchange. Either are equally capable
    mail systems, which are not "technological mysteries"
    having been around for many many years.

    Our government has no interest in being transparent
    and certainly is not accountable to the people.

    Unfortunately, far more is yet to come.
  • What EOP does while we pay them

    I don't think whitehouse staff should have official/whitehouse gmail accounts. That's silly. If it is the whitehouse persona they are using, then use the EOP email. If you don't want to be official, then use your personal email - don't you have one? What does an unofficial whitehouse email mean - "wink, wink, we won't tell anyone we had this conversation, but don't ignore me coz I am from the Whitehouse."

    And I don't want whitehouse employees using gov't resources (including Blackberrys) and gov't time to do things that are forbidden under the Hatch Act. Use your personal iPad (or whatever) at the Starbucks across the street on your own time.

    Some of the application of the Hatch Act is old and worn, but the concept is just as valid today as it was back then. If we don't separate governance from politics, we'll get even less governance than we have now. In particular, using any sort of official government capacity (e.g., email or stationary)to solicit campaign funds is just hair-brained. The only people working for the government would be fund-raisers, except the government would never see any of the funds, just the resulting corruption.
  • RE: Former Googler in hot water over White House email practices

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