E-records preservation bill passes House

The House has voted 286-137 to expand the National Archives and Records Administration’s powers on the oversight of federal and presidential record-keeping practices.

The Electronic Message Preservation Act would amend both the Federal Records Act and the Presidential Records Act (PRA). The measure would create mandatory minimum requirements for electronic records management systems to be used by federal agencies and require agencies to preserve electronic communications in an electronic format. The measure passed July 9 would also have NARA set standards for the management of presidential records, including specific standards for managing electronic messages.

The bill's backers say it represents necessary reforms to records laws because of the increasing use of electronic forms of communication in government. They also cite what they say have been unsatisfactory record-keeping practices by the Bush administration which allegedly resulted in the loss of White House e-mail messages.

“In recent years, e-mail has become an essential form of communication and a key source of information about federal decision-making,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and one of the bill’s sponsors. “Despite the importance of these records, serious deficiencies exist in the way e-mails are preserved both by the White House and federal agencies.”

The administration opposes the bill on the grounds that it would upset the separation of powers laid out in the PRA by giving NARA increased power regarding federal records. The White House also said it is concerned about the measure's costs for federal agencies.

According to a recent from the Congressional Budget Office, the measure would cost $13 million in 2009 and about $155 million between 2009 and 2013.

The Senate is not considering a similar bill.

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