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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

Comments to NARA re Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Document Destruction Proposal

Earlier this week, we posted to let readers know about the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) draft records schedule submitted to NARA that would destroy important civil rights records. CBP was asking for NARA’s approval to destroy after four years “records developed to track and monitor complaints that are or will be investigated by DHS Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) regarding alleged violations of civil rights and civil liberties” and associated “Requests for Information” (NARA RFC Control Number DAA-0568-2018-0001).

CBP further proposed 25-year retention periods for “records pertaining to administrative and criminal investigations on [CBP] employees, contractors, and those in CBP custody,” as well as records and reports pertaining to Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) allegations. A July 9, 2020 NARA appraisal memorandum accompanying the Proposed CBP Schedule recommends approving it in full (Appraisal Memorandum is at the end of the proposed CBP records schedule (p11-14)). The ACLU has more background and context on these important records.

A group of organizations working on immigration issues, government accountability, civil liberties, refugee and immigration history, libraries, and more (including PEGI Project and FGI!) have signed on to a letter to NARA raising deep concerns (PDF) regarding CBP’s proposed records schedule and requesting that NARA revise the schedule and permanently retain the records at issue. The letter is extremely thorough and deeply researched and shows how researchers use NARA’s records, puts agencies’ FOIA support (or lack thereof) in historical relief, and offers a strong argument for why these records in particular from the CBP should be designated as permanent.

I encourage our readers to read the letter. Records retention of federal agency records is extremely important to a wide swath of professional, library, and civil society organizations. And this is a great example for how to write a comment to a federal agency.

Please send comments to NARA re CBP’s draft records schedule seeking to destroy important civil rights records

[UPDATED 9/28/2020 5:30pm PST: I’ve taken down the link to the Google form. Please submit comments via REGULATIONS.GOV. Thanks! JRJ]

[UPDATED 9/29/2020: I deleted the link to the letter since it was a draft. When the final letter is published, I’ll be sure to post. JRJ]

**** DEADLINE for INDIVIDUAL PUBLIC COMMENTS is WEDNESDAY 30 September ****

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has extended the commenting period to 30 September on a proposed records schedule regarding Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP) (Control Number DAA-0568-2018-0001), 85 FR 47248 (Proposed CBP Schedule).

CBP seeks NARA’s approval to destroy after four years “records developed to track and monitor complaints that are or will be investigated by DHS Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) regarding alleged violations of civil rights and civil liberties” and associated “Requests for Information.”

CBP further proposed 25-year retention periods for “records pertaining to administrative and criminal investigations on [CBP] employees, contractors, and those in CBP custody,” as well as records and reports pertaining to Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) allegations. A July 9, 2020 NARA appraisal memorandum accompanying the Proposed CBP Schedule recommends approving it in full (Appraisal Memorandum).

FGI has signed on to a DRAFT letter to NARA raising deep concerns (PDF) regarding CBP’s proposed records schedule and requesting that NARA revise the schedule and permanently retain the records at issue. The comments were crafted by groups working on immigration issues, government accountability, civil liberties, refugee and immigration history, and more. The letter is extremely thorough and shows how researchers use NARA’s records and and offers a strong argument for why these in particular from the CBP should be designated as permanent.

If any of our readers would like to submit individual comments, please feel free to submit directly via regulations.gov (Control Number DAA-0568-2018-0001). You can also read others’ comments on regulations.gov.

**** DEADLINE for INDIVIDUAL PUBLIC COMMENTS is WEDNESDAY 30 September ****

EPA Destroys Water Quality Records, Deceives Archivist of the US

Our friends at CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) broke this story on August 7, 2020 about the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) illegally destroying records and lying about it. Oddly enough, EPA didn’t destroy records because they were damaging to the agency’s reputation or were evidence of agency misdeeds. The records were originally damaged by a water sprinkler accident. But instead of acting quickly to dry the records, they let them fester for several months and get moldy. And then they didn’t follow protocol set under federal law requiring that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) evaluate and approve requests to destroy contaminated records. No, EPA just went ahead and destroyed the records and then the EPA lied to NARA to cover up their incompetence. This is a case that clearly points to the need for improving training and raising the profile and importance of record-keeping within agencies (2 recommendations put forth by the 2018-2020 FOIA Advisory Committee).

Americans must be able to trust that executive agencies are taking care of OUR records. Sadly, in this instance, EPA failed our trust.

The Environmental Protection Agency illegally destroyed records, deceived the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) about that destruction, and falsely blamed the coronavirus pandemic to escape accountability, according to internal documents uncovered by CREW.

via EPA Destroys Water Quality Records, Deceives Archivist – CREW.

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) submits comment to NARA re Dept of Interior records schedule request

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) just sent me a PDF copy of the comment that they submitted to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) regarding the Department of Interior records schedule request. This letter, combined with the others from DLF, transparency organizations, and Stanford Libraries offers a finely grained analysis of the overall problem and suggestions for moving forward in making the scheduling process much more transparent and in understanding and preserving important government records. Many thanks to these organizations and the many others who submitted comments.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is a non-profit organization dedicated to safeguarding the earth: its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends. On behalf of our over 3 million members and online activists, NRDC submits the following comments regarding the Department of the Interior’s proposed updates to its records schedule, DAA-0048-2015-0003. See Notice of availability of proposed records schedules, 83 Fed. Reg. 45,979, 45,980 (Sept. 11, 2018). NRDC also joins the letter submitted by the Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School. We appreciate the willingness of the National Archives and Records Administration to work with interested parties and extend the comment period to permit public inspection of Interior’s retention policy for such vital records.

The proposed schedule covers records that are central to the public’s understanding of the Department of the Interior’s (“Interior’s”) stewardship of our nation’s public lands and natural resources. Moreover, it encompasses records of activities that might have long-lasting or permanent implications for both human health and the environment. But the proposed schedule permits some records to be destroyed while they may still be substantially valuable to the public, while other retention policies are too vague to assess their impact. Moreover, the high publicity and comprehensive nature of Interior’s schedule change highlights shortcomings in NARA’s approval process for agency records schedules. Interior’s records schedule should be amended to ensure that valuable records are preserved for public inspection.

Digital Library Federation and government transparency community submit comments to NARA re DoI records schedule

[UPDATE: 11/27/2018: Attached are PDF copies of the letters from Openness and Accountability Community and Digital Library Federation (DLF).]

Today was the last day to comment on the draft Department of Interior records scheduling request (originally posted here on FGI “Holes in History: The Dept of Interior request to destroy records.”). I’m aware that 2 groups — the Digital Library Federation’s Government Records Transparency and Accountability working group (GRTA) and a broad coalition of government transparency organizations including Government Information Watch, FGI, Defending Rights & Dissent, Demand Progress, Public Citizen, FracTracker Alliance, National Coalition for History, Association of Research Libraries, Rural Coalition, Society of Professional Journalists, Project On Government Oversight (POGO), and ICPSR — have submitted comments and listed concerns and ideas for how to make the records scheduling process more transparent. I think these letters, combined with Stanford UL’s letter to AOTUS Ferriero, raise important points and issues in the records scheduling process in general and in the Department of Interior’s request specifically and give suggestions for how to make the process more transparent and publicly accessible.

NARA does yeoman’s work and is critical to the public understanding of the workings of our government. Hopefully, these and other comments received by concerned citizens and organizations will improve access and preservation of important records.

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