5 facts feds should know about email

Experts at the National Archives give FedScoop a briefing on what federal employees need to know about their email accounts.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include Clinton’s recent remarks.

Controversy continues to churn amid recent revelations that Hillary Clinton used a private email account, and not a government address, while serving as secretary of State. At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, the likely presidential contender defended her actions, but said she kept the private email account out of “convenience.”

“Looking back, it probably would have been smarter to use two devices,” she said. “But I have absolute confidence that everything that could be in any way connected to work is now in the possession of the State Department.”

Nevertheless, the news has experts asking whether Clinton’s email system used sufficient cybersecurity protections and whether she was complying with records preservation rules. And it also had FedScoop wondering what federal workers should know about their own emails.


To learn more, FedScoop reached out to officials at the National Archives and Records Administration, the agency in charge of keeping tabs on federal records. Here’s what they said.

A federal employee’s email is a federal record when it is created or received in the course of work. That applies to everyone, from the head of the agency to lower level workers. Agencies are responsible for developing policies and procedures to manage the records of all of their employees, including email and other electronic records.

Group email accounts, email accounts with multiple users and multiple email accounts owned by the same person are all likely to contain federal records.

When an employee uses a personal or other nonofficial email account for work (such as when the official account is not available for technical reasons or during an emergency), the emails must be copied or forwarded into an agency email account within 20 days, under a new law. Agencies are responsible for determining when, if ever, it is acceptable for employees to use personal accounts or devices to do work.

The National Archives and your agency work together to determine how long records, including email, should be kept through the records scheduling process. Records must be preserved for as long as the schedule requires. Records may have short-term value (180 days or less), permanent value or something in between. Permanent records are eventually transferred to the National Archives.


Records management is everyone’s responsibility. Every agency has a records officer with professional staff who are responsible for helping employees manage records on a daily basis, along with a senior agency official for records management who is responsible for overall agency accountability. These individuals are able to answer specific questions about what policies have been put in place at each agency. A list of these individuals is on the National Archives website.

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