McCaleb admits to e-mail 'misunderstanding'
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Facing a court investigation into his role as head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb on Tuesday promised to recover 10 months worth of e-mails that were erased in violation of his own policies.

McCaleb failed to keep a "complete record" of his electronic communications, according a statement issued by the Department of Interior. "Once Mr. McCaleb identified the problem, it was immediately and fully disclosed to the court," the statement read.

But through the services of a California company that has made a tidy profit off the Wall Street accounting scandals, the department said it was "confident" that the missing documents will be recovered. Zantaz Inc., a software firm specializing in information retrieval for financial and other institutions, has been hired to process computer backup tapes alleged to contain McCaleb's e-mails.

That task is easier said than done. When backup tapes containing e-mails of government attorneys went missing, the files couldn't be recovered, the department acknowledged earlier this year.

"[N]either the government nor the individual respondents can restore the overwritten backup data," Secretary Gale Norton's defense team said in an April court filing.

Department policy, not to mention court orders, should dictate otherwise. The federal judge overseeing the Indian trust debacle has told the Interior to protect its documents, whether they are in paper of electronic format.

In a November 2001 memo, former Interior chief information officer Daryl White described the procedure. All e-mails must be printed and filed, he stated. Only then can they be erased, according to the document.

McCaleb's incoming e-mails weren't printed or filed prior to their apparent destruction, according to the department. "The Assistant Secretary has acknowledged his misunderstanding," yesterday's statement said.

Based on the admission, the special master in the Individual Indian Money (IIM) lawsuit has asked for a full explanation. In an October 20 letter, Alan Balaran questioned why the failure to follow policy from December 2001 to October 2002 was only recently discovered.

Balaran last year uncovered the destruction of e-mail backup tapes at the Solicitor's Office. He is currently conducting an investigation to determine whether the attorneys involved will face contempt charges.

An internal probe by the Interior -- which is now being promised in response to the McCaleb situation -- cleared nearly 40 employees of wrongdoing. U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, in a September 17 decision holding Norton and McCaleb in contempt of court, questioned the failure to account.

"It is disappointing, to say the least, that the Inspector General would conclude that there was no intentional misconduct when such a large number of key participants were never even interviewed," Lamberth wrote.

Relevant Documents:
Special Master Letter on E-Mails (10/20) | DOI Memo: E-mail Backups (November 2001) | DOI Report: Allegations Concerning Conduct of Department of the Interior Employees Involved in Various Aspects of the Cobell Litigation (June 2002) | Special Master Opinion on Destroyed Computer Backups (July 2001)

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton -
Cobell v. Norton, Department of Justice -
Indian Trust, Department of Interior -
Trust Reform, NCAI -

Related Stories:
McCaleb e-mails were destroyed (10/22)
Probe raises more questions than answers (08/07)
DOI investigation released (8/7)
No one to punish for destroyed e-mails (4/10)
More sanctions expected on trust fund (4/4)
Interior cited for destroyed e-mails (7/30)