Rep. Darrell Issa, the California Republican who chairs the House Oversight Committee, slammed the Department of Health and Human Services Thursday after msnbc exclusively reported that the agency may not be able to recover emails from a senior official involved in the botched roll out of HealthCare.gov.
“Today’s news that a senior HHS executive destroyed emails relevant to a congressional investigation means that the Obama Administration has lost or destroyed emails for more than 20 witnesses, and in each case, the loss wasn’t disclosed to the National Archives or Congress for months or years, in violation of federal law,” Issa said in a statement provided to msnbc.
Issa’s committee subpoenaed HHS for records related to the faulty rollout of the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchanges in late October. But health department officials only recently determined that they may not be able to provide all the relevant emails belonging to Marilyn Tavenner, an Obama appointee who runs the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the office responsible for setting up the exchanges, thanks to a sloppy record-keeping system.
Issa, who has previously accused HHS and other federal agencies of deliberately withholding information from his committee, said this is the latest incident in a troubling pattern.
“It defies logic that so many senior Administration officials were found to have ignored federal record-keeping requirements only after Congress asked to see their emails. Just this week, my staff followed up with HHS, who has failed to comply with a subpoena from ten months ago. Even at that point, the administration did not inform us that there was a problem with Ms. Tavenner’s email history. Yet again, we discover that this Administration will not be forthright with the American people unless cornered,” he said in the statement.
Even Maryland Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings, who, as ranking member of the Oversight Committee, often spars with Issa, did not come to Tavenner’s defense. “This is another example of why we need to update and strengthen the policies surrounding the preservation of email records across all federal agencies, which my legislation would do,” he said in a statement
Cummings introduced legislation in March of 2013 aimed at clarifying rules around the preservation of emails. His proposed Electronic Message Preservation Act would update the Federal Records Act, which was written to handle paper records and has caused headaches as the government moves its business onto electronic platforms.
Problems with email record-keeping are all too common, according to a 2008 Government Accountability Office report, which found that officials at several federal agencies “did not consistently conform to key requirements.” There is “limited assurance that agencies are appropriately managing the records in their custody and that important records are not lost,” the report continued.