The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform sent letters to 55 different federal agencies this week seeking information on federal employees’ use of unofficial government communication methods.
The Committee has become concerned about recent reports that federal workers are using alternate means of communication such as personal email accounts or encrypted messaging applications. The letter notes that if this is done, such as with using a personal email account, the Federal Records Act requires that the employee copy the message to his or her official account within 20 days to preserve the official government record.
Since the turnover in administrations in the White House, various news reports have mentioned that federal employees are using encrypted apps and social media outside of their regular agency jobs and communication channels to express dissent over some of the policies of the Trump administration. See for example Federal Workers Finding Creative Ways to Push Back Against Trump Administration and Tweets, Politics, and A Career as a Federal Employee.
The Committee’s letter to agencies said, “[The use of] encrypted messaging apps like Signal, Confide, and WhatsApp, that could result in the creation of federal records that would be unlikely or impossible to preserve.” It also added, “The security of such applications is unclear. The need for data security, however, does not justify circumventing requirements established by federal recordkeeping and transparency laws.”
The letter asked agencies to provide data to identify any senior agency officials who had used an alias email account as well as agency policies governing the use of non-official messaging, email, and social media accounts to conduct official business. The letter also asked how agencies comply with FOIA requests that involve searching documents stored in non-official accounts. Agencies have until March 22 to respond.
A copy of the letter is included below.