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EPA Provides Misleading Assurance of Information Preservation
An email sent by the press office of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) incorrectly claims that “federal record keeping requirements” ensure that information withdrawn from the EPA website will remain “available to the public.”
Doug Ericksen, the head of communications for the Trump transition team at the Environmental Protection Agency, responded to reports of potential political vetting of scientific research at the EPA as "inaccurate" in an email sent by the EPA press office.
- How Trump Transition Officials Are Privately Explaining the Chaos at the EPA, by Tim Sohn, Slate (Feb. 1 2017).
In that email, Ericksen said:
"Claims that science and research will be deleted are simply not true. Because there are federal record keeping requirements, there is a process in place for archive Federal website information so it remains available to the public if it is removed from the active pages."
This greatly oversimplifies federal record keeping requirements in a misleading way. There is no guarantee that website information removed by an agency will remain available to the public.
Existing federal record keeping requirements do not necessarily guarantee that information that is removed by a new administration from the EPA website will be either deposited with the National Archives (NARA) or that any that are deposited will be made available online by NARA.
It will be up to the EPA to determine whether or not the information it removes from its website fits the definitions that require its deposit with NARA. The presence of information on the EPA website does not automatically make that information a "record" that falls under the Federal Records Act [Public Law 81-754, 64 Stat. 578, TITLE V-Federal Records (64 Stat. 583)].
The disposition of EPA web content is guided by publicly available records schedules (List of EPA Records Schedules in Final Status, and EPA Records Schedules in Final Status), but, according to the NARA Guidance on Managing Web Records Background, it is ultimately up to the agency to determine what information fits the guidelines and what information does not.
Even if web-based public information is deposited, NARA does not guarantee that it will make that information available online.
A Failure to Archive
Read the CRS Report “Records in the Digital Environment” in conjunction with this recent report from the Office of the Information & Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia “A Failure to Archive: Recommendations to Modernize Government Information Management”. The report outlines the huge and growing problem that the BC government has on their hands. There was a policy change 10 years ago in which records responsibility was shifted to the Royal British Columbia Museum complete w an expensive fee schedule for transfer. This has resulted in 33,000 boxes of records accumulating in a warehouse rather than be deposited in the BC Archives.
Long and short of it is that governments at all levels around the world are not keeping up with their archival responsibilities to the detriment of the public’s right to know.
Archiving is a public good. Records about key actions and decisions of government must be preserved in a lasting historical record for future generations. Without a comprehensive public archive, access to information and the ‘right to know’ is significantly and severely impaired.
OMB issues Managing Government Records Directive
M-12-18, Managing Government Records Directive (August 24, 2012) (7 pages, 2.62 mb).
MEMORANDUM FOR THE HEADS OF EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES AND INDEPENDENT AGENCIES Office of Management and Budget From Jeffrey D. Zients, Acting Director, Office of Management and Budget, and David S.Ferriero, Archivist of the United States SUBJECT: Managing Government Records Directive.
This Directive creates a robust records management framework that complies with statutes and regulations to achieve the benefits outlined in the Presidential Memorandum. This Directive was informed by agency reports submitted pursuant to Sec. 2 (b) of the Presidential Memorandum and feedback from consultations with agencies, interagency groups, and public stakeholders.
This Directive requires that to the fullest extent possible, agencies eliminate paper and use electronic recordkeeping. It is applicable to all executive agencies and to all records, without regard to security classification or any other restriction.
This Directive also identifies specific actions that will be taken by NARA, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to support agency records management programs. In addition, NARA will undertake a review to update relevant portions of the Code of Federal Regulations to take into account the provisions of this Directive.