Thursday, February 05, 2009

Craddick hacks sanitize computer files

On Craddick's last day, computers wiped clean

Former speaker followed procedures, staffer says.


By Jay Root
Copyright 2009

Before the Texas House voted Tom Craddick out of the speaker's post, state officials wiped his computers clean and deleted scores of electronic files, raising concerns that public records might have been destroyed.

Files on one shared computer network drive were saved, but unless Craddick specifically requested them, computer hard drives and electronic records associated with individual employees were deleted, officials said.

It was not clear Wednesday night whether the deleted files were backed up on other computers. A spokeswoman for Craddick said the speaker followed standard procedures for deleting computer files and retained paper files, which were sent into storage.

Craddick left the speaker's office on Jan. 13, returning to the state House as a rank-and-file member with a smaller staff. The computers were removed from the speaker's office to be wiped clean at 5 p.m. Jan. 12, said Anne Billingsley, a spokeswoman for the Texas Legislative Council. Rep. Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, was sworn in as speaker at noon the following day.

But before Craddick gave up the gavel to Straus, the Legislative Counsel, which oversees computer issues for the Legislature, let him take what he wanted and deleted everything else, officials told The Associated Press. Billingsley said the computers from Craddick's office were recycled and that Straus got his own computer systems that did not have the old files on them.

Milton Rister, the executive director of the Legislative Council, said that an attorney general's opinion has said a lawmaker's records belong to him or her.

He said Craddick's records were handled the same as they would have been for any other member.

Billingsley said that the computers from Craddick's office were recycled and that Straus got his own computer systems that did not have old files on them.

"Everything that Speaker Craddick had on his computers as far as data and records, he was allowed to take with him into his (state representative's) office," Billingsley said. "As far as the computers go, they took all the computers for the speaker's office, and they got wiped."

Deleting computer files from hard drives follows standard legislative procedures, said Craddick's chief of staff Kate Huddleston.

But it's not clear what files were deleted, setting off alarms among government watchdogs.

Fred Lewis, an independent government watchdog, called the deletions "outrageous."

"If it's on a state computer, it's a state record. They're not his records. They belong to the people of Texas," Lewis said. “I think there should be an investigation on whether or not he illegally destroyed state records.”

Huddleston said a shared network drive that all employees and the speaker could access was retained and taken to Craddick’s new office in the Capitol. The former speaker took some files off hard drives and a network drive that employees were able to independently access. But Huddleston said she wasn’t sure what was kept and what was not.

“I’d love to tell you we have all of it,” Huddleston said. “But if he didn’t want them ... they were deleted.”

Huddleston noted that paper files were retained and sent into storage.

A call placed by the AP to Straus' office was not immediately returned late Wednesday.

© 2009 Associated Press:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE