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Patrice McDermott posts Draft letter re DOI records disposition request to NARA. Requests comments

We posted about the Dept of Interior records schedule request to NARA and have been actively working on this issue for a few weeks now. Patrice McDermott, Director of Government Information Watch — many of you will have known Patrice from her ALA Washington Office days or laster as director of Open The Government — just posted the request below to govdoc-l so I thought I’d share beyond the govt documents library community. Please check out the draft letter that Patrice and several others in the FOIA/open govt communities have penned. Send any comments or concerns her way. And if you’d like to copy/paste anything from her letter — or from Stanford UL’s letter to AOTUS Ferriero for that matter — for your own comment to NARA, please do so BY NOVEMBER 26!

Here is a DRAFT letter/comments to NARA. Many thanks to the folks who have been working on this – this letter draws heavily on your work.

Thoughts, edits – and specific concerns about particular sets of records – welcomed. Please send to me [email protected]

It dawned on me that T’giving week is almost upon us… I plan to send this Friday 23 November. It is open to both organizational and individual signatories.

Background:

As you may know, the DOI has put in a request to NARA for disposition authority for a large # of record groups. Disposition does not equal immediate destruction; mostly the records would be marked Temporary — with ‘disposal’ dates that vary greatly based on the records, what they document, etc. Very few govt records (1-3%, according to NARA) are designated as Permanent/Archival.

The request is confusing to read & follow because DOI — following NARA guidance of recent years — has moved what used to be discrete series of records with discrete records schedules (as permanent or temporary) into what are being called ‘big buckets.’ The DOI request is essentially cross-walking discrete records series to their new bucket. And made the request for all of the buckets at one time.

The volume aside, there are a number of concerning aspects to this request.

I pulled together an annotated version of the NARA appraisal memo to get a handle on what was requested – and provisionally approved by NARA. I highlighted language in the Appraisal Memo (Blue=Good retention; Green = NARA comments worth noting; Orang(ish) = Concerning), and indicated the #s of Records Groups (not #s of records) covered in each NARA appraisal entry.

One aspect that has troubled me is from DOI’s Request for Records Disposition Authority

Methodology:

This change to a departmental schedule, from individual bureau schedules, moves disposition authority for Record Groups 022 (FWS), 049 (BLM), 057 (USGS), 075 (BIA), 079 (NPS), 115 (BOR), 471 (OSMRE),
473 (BSEE), and 589 (BOEMRE) to 048. (which is Office of the Secretary (OS) – Record Group 048)

Regardless of who the Secretary of Interior is or may be, it gives me pause to put authority for requesting disposal for these sensitive records in the office of a political appointee. So, there is a potential question for NARA (or its Hill overseers).

I am really troubled by the repeated language — by NARA — about “interest to NARA Researchers” (as opposed to??), and that records “do not document significant actions of federal officials”.

The legal definition of Records (44 U.S.C. Chapter 33)§ 3301) is:

RECORDS DEFINED.-
(1) IN GENERAL.-As used in this chapter, the term “records”-
(A) includes all recorded information, regardless of form or characteristics, made or received by a Federal agency under Federal law or in connection with the transaction of public business and preserved or appropriate for preservation by that agency or its legitimate successor as evidence of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the United States Government or because of the informational value of data in them

I would welcome your thoughts on particular sets of records/buckets and how they have been appraised — where the appraisal may fail to address the research/legal/etc needs of other communities (other than “NARA researchers”), where data, on which ongoing datasets are built, might be irretrievably destroyed, etc.

Holes in History: The Dept of Interior request to destroy records

[Editor’s note: please scroll to the end of this post for a sample letter to submit to NARA. Thanks!]

[Update: 10/30: I added another point about disposition authority. JRJ]

Remember, we have until November 26, 2018, to make comments to the National Archives. (Be sure to say that you’re referring to DAA-0048-2015-0003.)

  • [email protected]
  • fax: 301-837-3698
  • NARA (ACRA), 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park MD 20740-6001.
  • Last week, Russ Kick announced that The Department of the Interior (DOI) was requesting permission from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to destroy documents about oil and gas leases, mining, dams, wells, timber sales, marine conservation, fishing, endangered species, non-endangered species, critical habitats, land acquisition, and lots more. The request includes documents from every agency within the DOI, including the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Geological Survey, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and others. Please read Kick’s whole post for context and comments.

    This is a massive proposal. As Kick notes:

    This covers already-existing documents going back more than 50 years. Thousands of cubic feet of paper documents. Gigabytes of digital documents. Besides existing documents, as usual the proposed schedule will also apply to all future documents created in these categories (whether on paper or born digital).

    (more…)

    NARA embroiled in politics surrounding documents re Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh. The public loses.

    I’ve been trying to get my head around the very public wrangling of the release of archival records relating to Judge Brett Kavanaugh. The National Archives (NARA) is in the process of releasing “Approximately 900,000 pages of email and paper records were requested by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Charles Grassley.” But democratic Senators Diane Feinstein and Chuck Schumer are accusing NARA of withholding documents relating to Kavanaugh’s time as Staff Secretary under President George W. Bush. NARA has responded by saying that it is “longstanding and consistent practice” to respond only to requests from the Chair of Congressional Committees. Senate democrats have submitted FOIA requests for the remaining documents and are threatening to sue NARA if the FOIA request is denied.

    Regardless of how many documents are released and made available to the Judiciary Committee, Chairman Grassley has scheduled the committee hearing for September 4, 2018, long before NARA says it will be able to finish its work. NARA says it expects to complete its review of the first roughly 300,000 pages by August 20, and the remaining 600,000 pages by the end of October. It’s unclear whether a lawsuit to release additional records will cause the committee’s work to be postponed.

    Lost in all of this political wrangling (on top of the political wrangling whereby republicans blocked President Obama from nominating someone to the Supreme Court during his term) is the fact that the American public, regardless of political leaning, is losing out on really knowing the person being nominated for a lifetime position on the US Supreme Court, effecting the US political system for at least a generation to come.

    Politics is a vicious game, but the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice shouldn’t be left to the will of pure partisanship. The public needs to have access to ALL of the records regarding Judge Cavanaugh’s public work, and the committee should have time to “advise and consent,” to understand the nominee’s record, deliberate, and appoint judges.


    Feinstein wrote to archivist David Ferriero in a letter obtained by CNN on Wednesday, criticizing him for his narrow view of the law used to justify denying Democrats the documents. Democrats are set to begin meetings with Kavanaugh, President Trump’s nominee to the high court, after the August recess.

    “Under your overly restrictive reading of the Presidential Records Act, minority members of the Senate Judiciary Committee now have no greater right to Mr. Kavanaugh’s records than members of the press and the public,” the California senator wrote.

    “I ask that you reconsider the position set forth in your August 2 letter,” she continued. “These records are crucially important to the Senate’s understanding of Mr. Kavanaugh’s full record, and withholding them prevents the minority from satisfying its constitutional obligation to provide advice and consent on his nomination.”

    Democrats are pushing for the federal government to release all documents created during Kavanaugh’s time at the White House, roughly three years during the George W. Bush administration when he served as staff secretary. Republicans have accused Democrats of seeking to delay Kavanaugh’s nomination with the request.

    via Feinstein ‘alarmed’ National Archives is withholding Kavanaugh documents | TheHill.

    On July 31, 2018, the National Archives received a request from the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Ranking Minority Member Senator Dianne Feinstein and the other minority members of the committee for Judge Kavanaugh’s Staff Secretary records, which number the equivalent of several million pages. However, this request does not meet the requirements of section 2205(2)(C) of the Presidential Records Act, as the Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero explained in an August 2, 2018, letter to Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer. On August 6, 2018, Senator Feinstein asked the Archivist to reconsider this position, and the Archivist responded on August 10, 2018.

    As noted in both letters, since the Presidential Records Act was enacted in 1978, the National Archives longstanding and consistent practice has been to respond only to requests from the Chair of Congressional Committees, regardless of which political party is in power. For the same reason that the National Archives was not able to respond to Senator Feinstein’s request, the agency also declined to respond to the requests by Republican Ranking Members for Presidential records during President Obama’s Administration.

    via National Archives Works to Release Records Related to Judge Kavanaugh

    A day in the life of a govinfo librarian: FOIA’ing an old report

    I thought I’d just share this here as no doubt other govinfo librarians have had similar experiences. When I say “day” it should really be “several months” because what started out as a simple ILL request grew into a several month email trail.

    A researcher asked the library to do an Interlibrary loan request for a 1966 USGS report: Navigation channel improvement of the Alto Parana River, Argentina and Paraguay: peaceful uses for nuclear explosives. (Who says govt documents are boring?! This one was about using nuclear explosives to excavate river channels. Crazy, yes, but not boring!! Govt documents have much fodder for works of fiction but don’t get me started about the US Life Saving Service :-)) However, our ILL staff (normally *amazing* at digging out old/obscure/out-of-print materials for our patrons!) couldn’t find this one and so asked me for help.

    After perusing the Monthly Catalog and much trolling of government tech report sites like National Technical Reports Library (NTRL), Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC), and the Technical Report Archive and Image Library (TRAIL), I finally came across a catalog record for it in the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) Library.

    (more…)

    The Pentagon’s $660 million FOIA fee

    A friend reminded me today about this story from 2016 which was a Finalist for 2016 Golden Padlock award given each year by the group Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) “celebrating” the most secretive government agency or individual in the United States. that year, there were some real doozies. But I think the winner hands down was the US Department of Defense charging a $660 million fee to fulfill a FOIA request because the request would require 15 million labor hours (more than 1,712 years for one person)! MuckRock has the rest of the story.

    There’s a lot to unpack there, so let’s break it down, bottom to top.

    • The $660 million fee estimate is nearly 500 times our previous record, and will likely hold that dubious title for quite some time.
    • 15 million labor hours breaks down into 625,000 days, or a little over 1,712 years. So assuming one DoD employee started working on this nonstop tomorrow, they’d finish somewhere in the summer of 3728. To put that in perspective, if they started on year zero, by the time they were done, they’d only have to wait 20 years to hand off the work to an infant George Washington for safekeeping.
    • Finally, the idea that DoD can’t search their digitized contracts – therefore creating the need for the labor and associated cost – is problematic for a couple reasons. First, here at MuckRock, we know a thing or two about scans of paper copies, and running those through even a rudimentary OCR is pretty simple. The fact that they’re allegedly not doing that somewhat defeats the purpose of digitized archives. Second, there’s got to be a better way to preform this search than a brute force look through all their contracts.

    via The Pentagon’s $660 million FOIA fee • MuckRock.

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