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National Archives Reticent About Broadening Mission

National Archives Reticent About Broadening Mission, by Dan Friedman, CongressDaily, Jun. 2, 2008. [subscription required].
Update: NOW AVAILABLE from NextGov WITHOUT SUBSCRIPTION: http://www.nextgov.com/nextgov/ng_20080602_6498.php

The National Archives (NARA) is being put in an awkward position. Viewed as nonpartisan and professional, it is being tasked by Congress with new enforcement duties. Late last year, a new law passed that set up an “Office of Government Information Services” within the NARA to help set federal Freedom of Information Act policy. Another bill that is expected to pass the House would give NARA a new role requiring NARA to monitor White House e-mail archiving. This would change NARA’s role from that of passively receiving records to actively monitoring and enforcing rules. National Archives Inspector General Paul Brachfeld said that “NARA traditionally has not viewed itself as an enforcement entity but rather one that focuses upon collegiality and relationships.”

From the article:

Chafing at Bush administration secrecy, congressional Democrats are handing the National Archives and Records Administration new jobs promoting government transparency. Officials at the records agency appear to be balking at taking on unfunded mandates beyond their traditional role. If Congress wants the Archives to become open-government cops, archivists may prefer to remain librarians. “They have always had a narrow view of their mandate and have never been particularly inclined to seek any expansion,” said Patrice McDermott of OpentheGovernment.org, a coalition of groups urging government transparency. “They see their mission as providing access to historical records. They see [overseeing] contemporaneous records as a shift.”

Update on White House E-Mails

During the period between March 2003 and October 2005, at least 5 million e-mails may have been sent but not preserved.

The White House yesterday admitted to a federal magistrate judge that it has no computer back-up tapes with data written before May 23, 2003, and that it cannot track the history of individual hard drives within the White House system that may contain missing e-mails.

Agencies not complying with record preservation policies

Agencies not complying with record preservation policies, By Jill R. Aitoro, NextGov, April 24, 2008.

At the hearing, Linda Koontz, director of information management issues at the Government Accountability Office, released preliminary results from an ongoing GAO study of how four agencies managed e-mail and electronic records. …Koontz said the agencies print and then file e-mails, but about half of senior officials were not following these procedures, and the e-mails for these officials were maintained in e-mail systems that lacked record-keeping capabilities, such as the ability to group the e-mails using a classification system.

The House is considering the Electronic Communications Preservation Act, which would strengthen policies for preservation of government records including White House e-mails.

Gary Stern, general counsel for NARA said that the legislation’s potential cost to agencies could be “astronomical,” and noted the bill’s requirement that the National Archives would maintain authority over the White House’s electronic records might be unconstitutional.

Patrice McDermott, director of OpentheGovernment.org, said:

“I understand the constitutional issues, and I don’t have a good answer for that…. But one of the concerns is that there is no way to enforce accountability [of] records management in the White House. We understand it’s a difficult dance [for NARA]. They’re there at the invitation of the White House in many cases, but there needs to be some way for the outside community to hold the White House accountable.”

Court Takes Aim at White House Emails

Court may move against White House, by Pete Yost, Associated Press, Wed Oct 17, 2007.

A U.S. magistrate indicated Wednesday that a federal court may order the Bush administration to preserve copies of all White House e-mails, a move that a government lawyer argued strongly against.

National Security Archive sues White House over missing e-mails

Archive Sues to Recover 5 Million Missing White House E-mails, The National Security Archive, September 5, 2007.

The National Security Archive today sued the White House seeking the recovery and preservation of more than 5 million White House e-mail messages that were apparently deleted from White House computers between March 2003 and October 2005….

"The Bush White House broke the law and erased our history by deleting those e-mail messages," said National Security Archive director Tom Blanton. "The period of the missing email starts with the invasion of Iraq and runs through the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina."

White House Sued Again Over E – Mail, by The Associated Press, September 5, 2007

The White House abandoned an automatic archiving system for its e-mail in 2002 and did not replace it, says a lawsuit filed Wednesday against the Executive Office of the President.