Records Management

Inadequate Controls Over Various Agencies' Political Appointee Files Gao ID: NSIAD-94-155 July 13, 1994

GAO was requested to review the adequacy of controls over records created and maintained on political appointees at the Departments of State, Commerce, and the Interior; the U.S. Agency for International Development; and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. GAO found that weaknesses in management and control of records at the Department of State enabled Clinton administration political appointees at the Department's White House Liaison Office to retrieve White House liaison files on Bush political appointees. Controls over White House liaison records on political appointees at the other four agencies were also weak. Three agencies had not identified their political appointee records as a system of records as required by the Privacy Act. Three of the four had not prepared disposition schedules for these records. Two agencies destroyed records on political appointees without specific disposition authority, one agency gave the records to individual appointees, and one handled the records in a manner that the final disposition for most of them could not be determined. There are no governmentwide disposition standards for records relating to political appointees, and weak controls increase the vulnerability of these records to unauthorized searches and make it harder to determine if the records have been improperly accessed.

GAO found that: (1) records management weaknesses at State enabled Clinton administration political appointees in the White House liaison office to access office files on Bush administration political appointees; (2) Bush administration records were left accessible and unprotected in storage because State records management officials did not have proper records disposition authority or specific written instructions, and some officials altered the records' security classifications; (3) State's records controls are weak because its descriptions of political appointees in the Federal Register are outdated and unclear; (4) White House liaison records control at the four other agencies GAO reviewed varies significantly because of a lack of governmentwide disposition standards for political appointee records; (5) weak records control increases vulnerability to unauthorized searches and hinders detection of unauthorized access; (6) although controls over official personnel files are more stringent than those over White House liaison records, these controls do not track intra-agency access to information and ensure the timely disposition of folders; (7) although there were no unauthorized searches of official personnel files at the other four agencies, an unauthorized White House official repeatedly tried to access Bush administration official personnel files at State; (8) although access to Presidential Appointments Office files is limited to office staff, the Office does not maintain a checkout list to identify individual file access; and (9) Clinton administration staff did not try to gain unauthorized access to Presidential Appointments Office files.


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