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UPDATE: Missouri legislature cuts e-mail archive funding

Thursday, April 2, 2009 | 4:11 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — State lawmakers have eliminated funding for a computer system that archives e-mails sent and received by about 34,000 executive branch employees.

But Gov. Jay Nixon's administration says it intends to keep operating the e-mail-saving project anyway.

The e-mail retention system was ordered by former Republican Gov. Matt Blunt after public scrutiny in 2007 about whether his office was deleting some e-mails that should have been saved as public records.

On the same day Blunt directed development of the e-mail saving system, Democratic then-Attorney General Nixon announced an investigation into whether Blunt's office was following public records laws in its handling of e-mails.

Nixon, who took over as governor in January, recommended $731,780 in next year's budget to continue the e-mail retention system and expand it to cover the Missouri State Highway Patrol and Department of Natural Resources.

The advantage of the system is that it keeps a copy of all e-mails, even if the government employee who sent or received the e-mail deleted it. The system also makes it easier to search for and retrieve those e-mails in compliance with Sunshine Law requests.

But neither the House nor the Senate Appropriations Committee included money for the e-mail archiving system in the proposed budget for the 2010 fiscal year.

House Budget Committee Chairman Allen Icet, R-Wildwood, said the e-mail system never was a priority for him.

"The intensity around that issue was not driven by a concern of open records, it was more of a political ploy," Icet said.

The Senate Appropriations Committee this week is plugging more than $900 million in federal "budget stabilization" money into Missouri's budget from the economic stimulus package signed by President Barack Obama.

The committee is using the federal money for several other computer projects, including $818,638 for a tax compliance system in the Department of Revenue, $866,455 for a new Department of Health and Senior Services database tracking pseudoephedrine purchases and $107,640 to expand a database so that certain nurse practitioners can be listed as having authority to prescribe drugs.

But the committee did not even discuss whether to fund the e-mail archiving system when considering that section of the budget Wednesday.

"An e-mail retention system?" Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, asked rhetorically in a later interview. "I just think it's more important to meet our obligations to fund health care and education and corrections — all of the things that state government is really designed to do."

Nixon's budget chief, Linda Luebbering, said the administration's spending request had included $486,652 for the continued operation of the e-mail saving system, $169,704 to add the Highway Patrol's e-mail accounts and $75,474 to add the Department of Natural Resources.

Without money in the budget, the two agencies won't be added. Nixon's Office of Administration will continue running the system with money from its core budget for computer technology, but it may not be able to keep up with computer software and hardware updates, Luebbering said.

 


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