Dems seek to require electronic storage of agency e-mail

The White House and federal agencies would have to step up efforts to keep their e-mails under a bill introduced Wednesday, but a nonpartisan watchdog group in a separate report said the legislation does too little to fix an "abysmal" federal e-mail record-keeping system.

Government rules for keeping e-mails have not kept pace with changes in technology and working habits that have meant federal business occurs increasingly online, experts and open government advocates said in testimony submitted for a House Oversight and Government Reform Information Policy Subcommittee hearing on the bill.

With decisions reached and rules drafted through electronic collaboration, an outdated records policy means "we do not know with any certainty that of all the documents and information we need to write our history, to trace policy development and implementation ... are being preserved," Patrice McDermott, director of OpentheGovernment.org, a nonprofit group that advocates government transparency, said in her written testimony.

The legislation, introduced by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and two committee Democrats, would require agencies to store e-mail electronically. It would mandate that the National Archives and Records Administration issue regulations within 18 months on how agencies should satisfy this requirement.

The Federal Records Act now lets agencies keep e-mail in paper files. According to a GAO report released Wednesday, many agencies use print-and-file systems that result in the loss of many e-mails that should be saved.

At four agencies GAO studied, all of which rely on print-and-file systems, "for about half of senior officials, e-mail records were not being appropriately identified and preserved," the report said.

Waxman's bill takes specific aim at the e-mail retention policy of the Bush White House, which the chairman has blasted for losing hundreds of days of e-mails due to reliance on an inadequate records system. A former White House information technology official has called the system "primitive."

Waxman is also investigating the practice of White House officials, including former political adviser Karl Rove, of using mostly Republican National Committee e-mail accounts instead of government e-mail accounts. The RNC says it has destroyed many of those records.

The bill also would update the Presidential Records Act, which allows the president to manage records during his term. The bill instead would direct the National Archives to create standards for White House records retention and to report to Congress on White House compliance.

The hearing on the bill, originally set for Wednesday, was postponed by the subcommittee on information policy, which did not say when it will be rescheduled.

In a report timed to coincide with the bill's introduction, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington called the Waxman plan "anemic."

CREW, which is suing the White House over the lost e-mails, said the bill lacks effective enforcement mechanisms. Under the measure, "the president can ignore his record-keeping responsibility with impunity," said the report, which is based on review of agency e-mail policies.

With off-the-shelf software for e-mail retention now available, the group argued that Congress should not let agencies wait 18 months to adopt new policies.

"Agencies continue to cling to outdated, inefficient and ineffective paper record-keeping systems," the group said. "The federal government has fallen woefully behind its private-sector counterparts."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.