Nightly purge of Pennsylvania Department of Education emails condemned

Staff members of the Pennsylvania Department of Education "delete and cleanse" their emails each night, a policy which the state's Office of Open Records and the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association have condemned.

Acting state Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq told ABC27 WHTM in Harrisburg about the policy in a story about former Education Secretary Ronald Tomalis, according to Pittsburgh's Tomalis is still earning six figures although many are questioning how actively he's working. Public records show that Tomalis only sent five emails and one phone call a day since July 2013, which Dumaresq defended, in turn revealing the policy.

“I check mine at the end of each evening. I clear my emails out, as does Ron, and we only save those emails into files to remember a decision that was made,” Dumaresq said in the interview. “So there is no email trail for a lot of folks."

Under the state's Right to Know Law, government employees must treat emails the same way they'd treat paper records. The time an agency must keep their records varies by state, agency and individual record.

Terry Mutchler, the director of the Office of Open Records, told the policy didn't pass a "gut check" for proper email retention policy. (For an example, see this chart from the federal Environmental Protection Agency).

In Pennsylvania, the Historical and Museum Commission is in charge of retention schedules. According to its policies (click on "Administrative Records" for a more detailed guide), "routine correspondence concerning day-to-day office administration and activities" should be kept for three years. Executive level correspondence should be kept for two years, then transferred to the state archives.

Finding a straight answer on how long to keep email records can be difficult. Even at the federal EPA, which provides among the clearest directives for how to treat email records, the retention schedules for emails range from 30 days to permanently.

Tagged: access to public records, newsgathering