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NARA invokes emergency plan to deal with deluge of White House data

The New York Times reports today on the problems the National Archives faces in acquiring, organizing, managing, preserving and making available the records of the Bush White House.

The National Archives has put into effect an emergency plan to handle electronic records from the Bush White House amid growing doubts about whether its new $144 million computer system can cope with the vast quantities of digital data it will receive when President Bush leaves office on Jan. 20.

Among the problems NARA faces? Volume: NARA anticipates getting 100 terabytes of data 50 times the what they got from the Clinton White House. This is the equivalent of five times the contents of all 20 million catalogued books in the Library of Congress.

Cooperation: “Millions of White House e-mail messages created from 2003 to 2005 appear to be missing and may not be recoverable. And in September 2007, the top lawyer at the National Archives wrote in a memorandum that he had ‘made almost zero progress’ planning the transition because the White House had ignored repeated requests for information about the volume and formats of electronic records.” In addition, Vice-President Cheney’s lawyers claimed in a court filing that neither NARA nor the court “may supervise the vice president or his office” for compliance with the Presidential Records Act.

Formats: NARA says that there are a large numbers of White House records created with proprietary commercial software.

Access: Paul Brachfeld, the archives’ inspector general, said “The electronic records archives system may be able to take in a tremendous amount of e-mail and other records…. But just because you ingest the data does not mean that people can locate, identify, recover and use the records they need.”

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