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Senator Criticizes 'Systemic Issues' in State Dept. Email Management

Perdue is critical of "systemic issues" in the State Department's handling of email. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

One of the State Department's congressional overseers is expressing fresh concerns about federal data security after this week's inspector general report about the use of private email at the embassy in Japan.  

"Recent data breaches of U.S. cyber networks should prompt all government officials to strengthen communication security," Sen. David Perdue said in a statement to CQ Roll Call. "This Inspector General report indicates systemic issues across the State Department, specifically in email communications."  

The State Department inspector general was critical of the scope of the use of non-government email by Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy and her staff.  

"In the course of its inspection, OIG received reports concerning embassy staff use of private email accounts to conduct official business. On the basis of these reports, OIG's Office of Evaluations and Special Projects conducted a review and confirmed that senior embassy staff, including the Ambassador, used personal email accounts to send and receive messages containing official business. In addition, OIG identified instances where emails labeled Sensitive but Unclassified were sent from, or received by, personal email accounts," the report found. "OIG has previously reported on the risks associated with using commercial email for official Government business."  

In June, Secretary of State for Management and Resources Heather Higginbottom testified before Perdue's subcommittee that State Department systems "are attacked every day, thousands of times a day."  

"As Chairman of the subcommittee charged with overseeing State Department operations, I will continue to advocate for greater oversight to ensure these common-sense IG recommendations are implemented. National security and safeguarding sensitive government information must always be a top priority," Perdue said Thursday.  

The issue of email security within the State Department has led headlines in recent months since the discovery that Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton used a private email account on a personal email server.  

State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters Tuesday that embassy personnel were working to implement the changes requested by the inspector general report.  

"We did note comments by the IG related to the use of commercial email by some personnel at the embassy there — at the mission in Japan. And in accordance with department policy, the mission requires the use of official email accounts to conduct official business whenever possible. So — and no different to what we said before, the use of private email is allowed for some government purposes as long as certain rules are followed," Kirby said. "The mission — again, this I think is clear in the report — periodically reminds employees of the importance of following these rules. And they include ensuring that certain types of protected information are not transmitted in non-official channels and that records sent or received on private email accounts are preserved as required."

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