House again considers electronic records bill

The House is again set to consider legislation that would expand the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) power to dictate how agencies and the White House preserve electronic records. A similar measure cleared the House in the last session, but was not acted on by the Senate.

The bill would amend the Federal Records Act (FRA) and the Presidential Records Act (PRA).

Under current practice, NARA works with an administration to coordinate the transfer of official records on the president’s final day in office. The transfer is mandatory under the PRA, but NARA has no authority over how presidents maintain records during their tenure. Meanwhile, under the FRA, NARA oversees federal agencies’ record-keeping, but its policies do not require agencies to preserve e-mail messages and other electronic records in their native format.

Under the proposed legislation, NARA would require agencies to capture, manage, and preserve records in an electronic format and that agency would develop regulations for how agencies maintain electronic records.

In addition, NARA would have to certify the electronic records management system to be used by a president. The George W. Bush administration’s preservation of its electronic records is the subject of ongoing litigation. In general, the bill would give NARA significantly more power over the Executive Office of the President’s record-keeping practices, and the Bush administration opposed the similar bill that cleared the House last year.

The latest bill cleared the House Government and Oversight Reform Committee by a voice vote March 10. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the measure would cost $156 million between 2010 and 2014.

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Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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Reader comments

Mon, Nov 2, 2009

Where will the money to pay for this come from??????I know the tax payer will pay but from what account???????

Mon, Mar 16, 2009 Editor

Hi Larry:

Thanks for your feedback. This bill would not change what is considered an agency record under the Federal Records Act, nor would it change what the White House is required to maintain under the Presidential Records Act to adequately document the presidency. In other words, there would still be a difference between what is required of a presidential administration and federal agencies for record keeping. However, in both cases NARA would have new and expanded roles in ensuring electronic records are maintained.

Does that clear things up?

Mon, Mar 16, 2009 Larry West Coast

What this article doesn't make clear is if the SAME requirements would be placed on Federal Records for Agencies that it mentions would be placed on Presidential Records? In the article, it says "...NARA would have to certify the electronic records management system to be used by a president..." so would this be the same for any systems used by Agencies for Federal Records if the Bill passes as written?

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