Y2K Hindered White House E-mail Fix

WASHINGTON (05/04/2000) - The problem of lost U.S. White House e-mail is being pinned on the millennium bug.

Hundreds of thousands of e-mail messages were lost because of glitches in the White House's Mail2 server between 1996 and 1998. But reconstruction of the records management system that will be used to recover the lost e-mail was put on hold last year to deal with Year 2000 compliance, a presidential aide said Wednesday.

"Mail2 was one problem that was set aside for Y2K," said Michael Lyle, director of the Executive Office of the President's Office of Administration during a hearing of the House Committee on Government Reform. "At the EOP, the Y2K crisis was the most difficult IT project ever faced."

A case-sensitive glitch, embedded in the system in 1996 and corrected by November 1998, allowed incoming White House e-mail messages to slip through undetected, leaving Congress and the U.S. Department of Justice without e-mail evidence in matters related to campaign finance, "Filegate" and the Monica Lewinsky sex-and-perjury scandal.

Republicans on the House committee, led by chairman Dan Burton, a Republican from Indiana, have accused the White House of stalling and covering up the e-mail problem. But Lyle said the only reason his department did not ask for appropriations sooner to fix the system was because its "singular purpose was Y2K."

Lyle said his office is working to reconstruct the e-mails "as quickly as we can." The office has hired a contractor to perform the task and is within days of hiring an independent validation and verification firm for the project, he said.

The committee on Wednesday also interviewed Karl Heissner, branch chief of systems integration and development in the EOP's Office of Administration.

Burton and his GOP counterparts questioned Heissner about the meaning of the phrase "let sleeping dogs lie" that Heissner put at the end of a February 1999 e-mail.

The Republicans indicated that Heissner's comment referred to the e-mail recovery effort and that he could be subject to obstruction of justice charges.

But Heissner, who has worked in the federeal government as a computer specialist since 1975, said that the reference was in regard to a recent slowdown in information requests from Congress.

Heissner said information requests from Congress and other litigants with the government had begun to slow down early last year after the campaign finance reform and other scandals had died down. He said he didn't want his supervisor to bring any "undue attention" to it in appropriation requests.

"I had no intention or attempt to obstruct justice at any time," Heissner said.

"The information requests had a negative effect on operations and took away considerable time from a very small staff."

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