WASHINGTON – The State Department has ordered an internal audit of its recordkeeping, officials said Friday, outlining a top-to-bottom look at the agency's practices in the aftermath of revelations that former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton used a private email account and server during her tenure.
The department released a letter that Secretary of State John Kerry sent to the department's inspector general earlier this week, asking for the review and calling it critical to "preserve a full and complete record of American foreign policy" and for the U.S. public to have access to that information. Among the questions he outlined were how best to retain records in light of changing technology, the agency's global presence and increasing demands from Congress.
Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters Friday the review would include the archiving of emails as well as Freedom of Information Act and congressional inquiries. He said it was not specific to Clinton, a likely presidential candidate who has been dogged by questions since it became clear she didn't use a government email account while in office and only provided the State Department with copies of work-related emails late last year.
The full trove of Clinton emails will be published on a website after they are reviewed. She says they contain no classified information. The State Department says emails pertaining to a congressional panel's examination of the deadly 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, will be released in advance of the others.
In the letter, Kerry said his department has undertaken significant efforts to promote preservation and transparency, including through better technology and training of staff. But he said the burden was significant, with more than 18,000 FOIA requests arriving each year that put a "significant strain" on diplomats whose main job is the advancement of U.S. foreign policy. In addition, he said, congressional investigations and requests have "greatly increased."
Kerry also didn't mention Clinton specifically, but noted that officials were "facing challenges regarding our integration of record-keeping technologies and the use of nongovernment systems by some department personnel to conduct official business."
He asked Inspector General Steve Linick to make several recommendations. They range from how to make improvements across more than 280 diplomatic posts worldwide to ways to streamline efforts to preserve appropriate documents. Kerry questioned whether the agency has even the resources and tools necessary to meet its obligations.
The department has particularly struggled with the backlog of public records requests. Some have languished for years without being met.
Earlier this month, The Associated Press sued to gain access to Clinton's correspondence after repeated FOIA requests to the department went unfulfilled. They included one request made five years ago.
An inspector general's report in 2012 criticized the State Department's practices as "inefficient and ineffective," citing a heavy workload, small staff and interagency problems.
Kerry asked if outside expertise might be advisable on how best to manage, preserve and make transparent its documents. He asked the inspector general to conduct "an expedited review of these issues."