Personal Email Accounts and Official Agency Business

By on September 11, 2013 in Current Events with 10 Comments

There have been reports recently about some agency officials using personal or fake email addresses to conduct agency business. The news surrounding former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson’s use of an email under a different name is one example of such reports.

It was also just recently reported that federal workers may continue to use secret government email accounts to conduct official business as long as the messages are safely preserved and turned over when they are sought under the Freedom of Information Act.

One of our recent surveys asked our readers about the use of personal emails to conduct official agency business. The majority of those responding said that they do not use a personal email address for this purpose.

The vast majority of respondents (94%) said they use email at work. However, of those individuals, only 11% said they have ever used a personal email address or a “dummy” agency address for conducting official agency business.

As to how often this 11% had used such an address, the answers broke down like this:

  • Rarely, perhaps once or twice a year: 35.48%
  • Routinely, a few times a month: 48.39%
  • Frequently, several times a day: 12.90%
  • Do not know: 3.23%

Comments from respondents on the subject were varied. Below are a few randomly selected comments:

  • Use of personal accounts is illegal. All government personnel know this and are trained on it.
  • The use of dummy accounts should be prohibited. If not, FOIA requests for an individual’s e-mails or agency e-mails should automatically cover all accounts. The dumm accounts are used primarily to conceal sensitive or controversial correspondence.
  • sometimes it is easier to attach large and certian types of files to my personal email or more convenient to use my email away from work
  • I usually only use my personal email when I am away from the office and dont have access to the secured network that our Agency email is accesed through since our agency only gives managers access to email outside of the government office.
  • In the Defense Department we have integrity and authenticity built ito our e-mail. You can’t use an e-mail address that is not your own. In fact, we are required to digitally sign all e-mail.
  • I would never use my personal email for IRS business since it would be less secure and potentially harmful to our customers.
  • There are very few occasions where a federal employee would need to use a dummy or personal email account for (federal) business email. Using the agency email system lets the recipient know that the message is official business and provides means to keep record copies of such correspondence.
  • If you have to hide what you’re doing behind a personal email address, you’re very likely doing something wrong. Tell the truth and shoot straight.
  • I work remotely, when my GFE computer crashed I used my personal computer to inform my supervisor & team lead. Also only used it to request emergency leave if I could not contact them by phone.
  • My agency doesn’t want to have to handle FOI requests so this allows us not to provide the emails

Our thanks to those who took the time to respond to the survey and share their feedback.

© 2016 Ian Smith. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Ian Smith.

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About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He enjoys writing about current topics that affect the federal workforce. Ian also has a background in web development and does the technical work for the FedSmith.com web site and its sibling sites.

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