UPDATE

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin has asked the Health and Human Services Department to investigate whether S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley misused a federal health care reform grant, according to The Hill.

Harkin, D-Iowa, is seeking a federal investigation into whether Haley misused a $1 million federal grant intended to plan for a health care exchange. Haley, according to emails provided to The Post and Courier, told state officials to find a way not to create an exchange.

Harkin has asked the inspector general in Health and Human Services to investigate whether her actions constituted misuse of the funds and determine whether the grant should be repaid.

"Spending taxpayer funds to construct an ideologically-motivated façade not only violates Congress's intent, but also the public's trust in government," Harkin wrote, according to The Hill.

 

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Gov. Nikki Haley has decided all of her emails actually are part of the public record.

In the wake of criticism over some of Haley’s messages being deleted, her office changed course Wednesday and said that it is drafting a policy that requires keeping all of the governor’s emails.

The Post and Courier recently reported on controversial emails obtained from a state agency that revealed Haley’s influence over a nonpartisan, taxpayer-funded committee she established to decide how South Carolina should implement the federal health care overhaul.

The Department of Health and Human Services provided the March emails to the newspaper Dec. 9, but Haley’s office failed to include them in its response to a separate, nearly identical Freedom of Information Act request in May.

Haley’s office maintained that Haley’s orders for an independent health panel were not retained because they were “of routine matters” and contained no policy information.

S.C. Press Association attorney Jay Bender challenged the explanation and the administration’s operations.

“It’s an email-destruction policy,” Bender said. “They’re making it up as they go along.”

On Tuesday, Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey pointed to a state statute that says only messages that “concern coordination of programs, agency policy and responsibilities of a non-routine nature that impact on the agency or its divisions” must be preserved.

The messages in question, however, seem to discuss policy.

In a statement, Godfrey said, “These provisions direct public bodies to retain ‘records of long term or enduring value’ ... but do not require the retention of routine matters, such as communications regarding program procedures, general work activities and responses to information requests.”

On Wednesday, Godfrey said that a policy being drafted requires retaining all emails sent or received by the governor.

The office is working with the state Department of Archives and History to create a new record retention policy. It’s expected to be finalized and released in January.

The current policy on what her office must retain is believed to be a left over from 1974, and predates emails and other technology — making references throughout to microfilm — and can be open to interpretation. But Godfrey said the governor’s office has followed the law.

“To be clear, the office of the governor does not have a ‘deletion’ policy,” he said. “But now we’ll have a stronger and more specific retention schedule that we’ll have developed” with the archives agency.

Haley said it’s the right thing to do.

“We have retained thousands of records and correspondence that will be preserved for archiving at the end of the administration,” Haley said in a statement. “But we have also found room for strengthening the policy — and, as we always do, when we see something that needs to be fixed, we fix it.”

Haley said she’ll also ask legislators to require that public records officers in all agencies undergo annual training from the archives department on records-retention laws and guidelines.

The Post and Courier reported that in the March emails, Haley and her top aides discussed the Health Planning Committee before the panel met for the first time. The committee’s eventual findings mirrored Haley’s email directive that “the whole point of this commission should be to figure out how to opt out and how to avoid a federal takeover, NOT create a state exchange.” A central part of the federal health overhaul, an exchange is a marketplace where various insurance plans eventually will be sold.

Also, The State newspaper reported that Haley staffers delete emails because of limited storage space on servers and because the correspondence wasn’t considered important.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Renee Dudley at 937-5550 or on Twitter @renee_dudley.