- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2014

An inter-government e-mail obtained by Congress shows that agencies mired in controversies don’t just have to answer to lawmakers, but to the National Archives as well.

Housed in a large, ornate building on Pennsylvania Avenue, the National Archives and Records Administration is perhaps best known to most as the home of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

But it serves another important function as well: collecting, recording and keeping the government’s vast amount of communications, documents and e-mails.

That’s brought the office into the middle of several ongoing political battles after both the IRS and Environmental Protection Agency said they have lost large chunks of documents to due to hard drive crashes.

For example: the case of Phillip North, an Alaskan EPA official who’s been the central focus of investigations into a proposed mine in the state’s Bristol Bay. Questions have arisen of whether Mr. North and other agency officials worked to preempt the mine before due scientific investigative process.

But a letter obtained by the House Oversight Committee shows the EPA admitted they don’t have all of the records pertaining to the case.

A letter to the National Archives from EPA records officer John Ellis said the agency wished to “report a potential loss of electronic documents belonging to Phil North.”

EPA has been searching for Mr. North’s e-mail and archive files on EPA’s central e-mail servers,” Mr. Ellis wrote. “EPA cannot conclude that this time that that [sic] Mr. North’s documents will not eventually be located, nor does EPA have any reason to believe that Mr. North’s records were intentionally destroyed.”

The EPA said that documents related to Bristol Bay weren’t found in Mr. North’s e-mail from April 2007 to May 2009, and that they were “not able to specify the exact number or type of documents that may never be located.”

Current government policies “require electronic record keeping to ensure transparency, efficiency and accountability,” David Ferriero, the U.S. Archivist, told a House Oversight hearing in June.

Computer crashes have become a common explanation — whether true or not — in the federal government for not having records. In addition to the EPA situation, lawmakers are investigating the actions of Lois Lerner at the IRS and whether the tax collection agency targeted conservative groups.

But members of Congress have been told that a hard drive crash caused the loss of many documents related to Ms. Lerner. Likewise, during the George W. Bush administration, many relevant e-mails and documents were reported lost during several government controversies.