Records Management

Public interest in records schedules booms

secure file (Maksim Kabakou/Shutterstock.com) 

Historically, records schedule notices -- the mechanism by which the National Archive and Records Administration transmits agency plans to retain permanent records and dispose of temporary records -- don't generate a lot of public attention.

"In the past … we generally, typically, didn't get very many comments on schedules," said Laurence Brewer, the federal chief records officer at NARA. "Occasionally, there would be one or two -- or maybe three to five -- comments on a schedule, and we're able to work with an agency quickly and adjudicate those and move on."

But recent comment totals for records disposition requests by the Department of the Interior and Immigration and Customs Enforcement suggest that public engagement with records management arcana could be changing in the digital age.

Brewer said the disposition request for the Interior schedule received more than 4,000 public comments, and the number of comments on the ICE schedule "was significantly higher than 4,000."

Brewer said those comment totals are "anomalous," before adding, "but anomalous only looking back…. I can't tell you if that's going to be anomalous moving forward."

"Certainly, we're aware with the environment in which we work … there's certainly a lot more attention to what government is doing now," he said at a Nov. 29 meeting of a Freedom of Information Act advisory committee at NARA headquarters.

The boom in public records is quantifiable. The federal government has received record numbers of FOIA requests in recent years, and Melanie Pustay, director of the Department of Justice's Office of Information Policy, told FCW her office expects the number of FOIA requests in fiscal year 2018 to approach one million.

Brewer said, if anything, the increasing number of comments shows NARA is doing what it's supposed to -- solicit comments and keep the public apprised of the records kept or not kept by agencies.

To keep up with the public demand for transparency and understanding of what goes on within government, NARA wants agencies to do more than the mandatory, box-checking baseline. Brewer said the plan to post agency schedules online, for instance, is not part of a compliance exercise. Rather, "it's just something we want to do to promote openness and transparency about what we're doing" to modernize and interact with the public, he said.

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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