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Back to Office of the Chief Technololgy Officer

Peter Nickles, Council to the Mayor
Memorandum on citywide email retention policy
October 3, 2007

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GOVERNMENT OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Executive Office of the Mayor

MEMORANDUM

TO: District of Columbia Agency Directors and Agency General Counsels

FROM: Peter Nickles, Counsel to the Mayor Executive Office of the Mayor

DATE: October 3, 2007

SUBJECT: Citywide Email Retention Policy

Introduction

Attached is a Mayor's Order that sets forth a citywide policy governing the retention of email on District of Columbia email servers managed by the Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO). The following summarizes the policy and explains its rationale. The policy has been twice circulated for comment to all agency Directors, Cabinet members, and agency General Counsels, and has been revised to reflect comments received,

Policy Rationale

The policy defines email retention parameters designed to permit reasonable email retention while ensuring a citywide email system that performs consistently and reliably.

The D.C. Government email system, implemented and managed by OCTO, provides citywide messaging services that are virus-free, secure, redundant, disaster-ready, failover-capable, and accessible from both wireline and wireless devices. The system supports both the day-to-day business of the D.C. Government and many critical services, such as communications to coordinate agency responses in emergencies, notices to snowplow operators to report for immediate duty before or during a snowstorm, and notices of required actions in cross-agency workflows including the PASS procurement system. The system serves approximately 35,000 simultaneous users.. Pursuant to Mayor's Order 2003-164, OCTO retrieves emails in response to requests in connection with litigation, investigations, and Freedom of Information Act queries.

The D.C. Government email system is designed to provide communication services supporting day-to-day and emergency government functions, not to provide document retention. However, individuals increasingly use the system to store messages rather than simply to send and receive them. Many archive emails in personal storage files (PSTs) that vary in size and age of messages. The large volume of stored messages threatens the availability and reliability of the system and makes it much harder to restore in a fail-over situation. Excessive storage also inflates operational costs, requiring more servers and more staff time to manage message volume, accommodate people who exceed recommended storage limits, and keep the system available round the clock to fulfill its central communications purposes. The varying use of PSTs inflates email search costs and makes it impossible to predict the age of search results.

Research reveals that other comparable jurisdictions generally impose email retention limits of six months or less (often as little as 60-90 days) (even with systems serving 10% of the District's volume). Some prohibit PSTs.

Policy Summary and Benefits

Under the proposed policy, OCTO will store all email on D.C. government email servers for six months, then delete it automatically and permanently. OCTO will take full backups of emails on the system weekly and store them on tape. OCTO will keep the backup tapes for eight weeks and then delete the emails on them to recycle the tapes. OCTO will implement software that eliminates users' ability to store emails on PSTs.

The policy contains two exceptions:

1. Exception--litigation holds: OCTO will honor any request by the Office of Risk Management (ORM) or the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), or independent agency counsel, to preserve specified email in connection with claims by or against the District. Once OCTO receives a written email preservation request, OCTO will preserve the identified email for any period designated by the agency, or a default period of three years, and will notify the requesting party, 30 days before the end of any preservation period, that the preservation will be discontinued unless the agency responds to the notice in writing within 30 days that the preservation must continue.

2. Exception--agency compelling need: The Counsel to the Mayor will waive the general rule for any agency that demonstrates a compelling business or legal need for an email retention period longer than six months. The retention period for each such agency will be the shortest possible period that is reasonably calculated to meet the asserted compelling business need.

In addition, the policy provides for the selection and preservation of important messages from the Executive Office of the Mayor and other key officials by the Office of Public Records.

The proposed limit will support OCTO's mandate to maintain the reliability and availability of the District's email system in a cost-effective manner. The limit will help contain and reduce email system operations costs. The six-month retention limit and the elimination of PSTs are consistent with the practices of similar jurisdictions. Ending PSTs will reduce email search costs and make the retention time limit uniform and predictable.

Policy Implementation

The Mayor's Order will be implemented initially as a six-month pilot to permit further evaluation of the feasibility of the six-month limit. In preparation for implementation, OCTO will send multiple city-wide email reminders so that all employees have ample notice and opportunity to save important emails off the system before the new retention limit takes effect.

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