Congress

Lawmakers target disappearing records

file folders on a background with binary code 

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will vote on bills that try to keep electronic government records from being altered or disappearing outright.

In two separate bills, Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) are seeking to add specificity and repercussions to laws governing federal communications, increase recordkeeping transparency and detail agency responsibilities for altered or lost records.

Meadows's Federal Records Modernization Act orders agency heads to suspend and remove employees who are found by watchdogs to have illegally tampered with, removed or destroyed a federal record. Meadows introduced this bill in 2016, but it never received a full House vote.

The bill would also require agencies to publish online a description of records that have been --  or may have been -- lost, altered or destroyed, and it would require all private or non-official electronic communications subject to the Presidential Records Act or the Federal Records Act to be properly archived within 20 days.

Cummings will reintroduce the Electronic Message Preservation Act, which would take steps to make sure electronic messages are properly archived and digitally accessible. Cummings introduced this bill in 2013 and 2015, but it did not gain much legislative traction.

Specifically, the bill would legally empower the National Archivist to issue rules requiring federal agencies to capture and preserve digitally created records and require those records to be "readily accessible" via electronic searches. Agencies would also be required to submit timelines to the National Archives and Records Administration to ensure the rules' timely implementation.

Cummings' measure is especially timely, given reports that White House staffers may be using the Confide app to send encrypted chat messages that are automatically deleted after being read.

Once implemented, agencies would then be required to submit compliance reports to NARA and make those reports publicly available online.

Meadows also plans to offer the Eliminating Pornography from Agencies Act, which would direct the head of the Office of Management and Budget to issue prohibitive guidelines against accessing explicit material on federal computers.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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