Records Management:

Inadequate Controls Over Various Agencies' Political Appointee Files

NSIAD-94-155: Published: Jul 13, 1994. Publicly Released: Aug 12, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed political appointee record management controls at the Departments of State, Commerce, and Interior, Agency for International Development, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

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(3) State's records controls are weak because its descriptions of political appointees in the Federal Register are outdated and unclear; (4) White House liaison records control at the four other agencies GAO reviewed varies significantly because of a lack of governmentwide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.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The National Archives has surveyed agencies to determine the most effective deposition mechanism for political appointee records and is in the final stages of approving a model for agencies to follow.

    Recommendation: To improve controls over records on political appointees in federal agencies, the Archivist of the United States should issue instructions to federal agencies that purpose standard disposition schedules for White House liaison records that authorize the destruction of appropriate records at the end of each presidential administration.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration: National Archives and Records Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State is revising its Privacy Act system of records to ensure proper description of White House liaison and Presidential Appointee records.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should clarify the description of State's Privacy Act systems of records in the Federal Register to ensure proper description of White House liaison and Presidential Appointments records.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State is coordinating its internal approval process for changing the Foreign Affairs Manual and the records management handbook. Changes in personnel have delayed the final approval.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should change the Foreign Affairs Manual and the Department's records management handbook to indicate the proper time for retirement of civil service employees' Office Personnel Folders.

    Agency Affected: Department of State


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