Washington, DC – Cause of Action Institute (CoA Institute) has sent Federal Records Act (FRA) notices to Secretary of State John Kerry and Archivist of the United States David Ferriero urging them to fulfill their statutory obligations to recover former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s work-related email records from a private email service provider.

Last month, at a House Oversight & Government Reform Committee hearing about Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) compliance at the State Department, Under Secretary of State Patrick Kennedy testified that his agency had undertaken only minimal efforts to retrieve work-related emails created or received by Secretary Powell on his private AOL email account.  Upon learning that Secretary Powell no longer had access to this account, the State Department merely requested that he contact his email provider to see if any records were still recoverable.  Secretary Powell never responded to that request, and the State Department took no further action, despite a request from NARA to contact AOL directly.  Under Secretary Kennedy justified State Department inaction by claiming that the agency lacks legal authority to take further action to recover agency records from Secretary Powell’s email service provider.

Cause of Action Institute Vice President John Vecchione: “The position that the State Department has no legal authority to take direct action to recover Secretary Powell’s work-related emails is absurd and should not be left unchallenged. American taxpayers have a substantial interest in ensuring that federal records are properly saved, archived, and available to the public through FOIA.  The State Department and NARA must live up to statutory obligations designed to keep the government accountable and transparent, and to preserve a written record of the federal government for future generations.”

The State Department’s position is not supported by federal law.  Not only do the email records in question belong to the State Department—as recently confirmed by the D.C. Circuit in Competitive Enterprise Institute v. White House Office of Science & Technology Policy—but the FRA gives the Secretary of State (as well as the Archivist of the United States) the authority, acting through the U.S. Attorney General, to take necessary legal action to recover alienated records.  The right to initiate action through the Attorney General is a mandatory obligation—in other words, the Secretary and the Archivist are required to initiate actions to recover Secretary Powell’s work-related email.

CoA Institute’s letters include FOIA requests for copies of all of Secretary Powell’s email, as well records concerning what efforts, if any, the State Department and NARA have (or have not) taken to retrieve these records that ultimately belong to the American public—records that would reveal the diplomatic activities of the Bush administration during politically contentious years.

Click here to view the letter to Secretary John Kerry

Click here to view the letter to ARCHIVIST David Ferriero