Agencies scramble to save Web sites for posterity

An order from the National Archives and Records Administration that all federal agencies make digital snapshots of their Web pages had information officers across the government scrambling in the waning hours of the Clinton administration. On Jan. 12, Deputy Archivist of the United States Lewis Bellardo sent a memo ordering agencies to hand over electronic records showing what their publicly available Web site pages looked like before the transition of power to President Bush. The move is part of an ongoing effort at NARA to preserve for posterity the online presence of every presidential administration from Clinton onward. As Bush's team prepared to take office on the eve of the inauguration, Webmasters at NARA readied the transition of the Clinton version of the White House Web site to NARA's site, where it will now reside for anyone who still wishes to visit it. Agency pages will not immediately be available online, however. NARA doesn't have the capacity yet to house all Clinton-era federal Web sites, but will work to make the pages Internet-accessible over the next several years. Bellardo said he hopes the records will be used by scholars and researchers "who will be interested in analyzing policy across one administration." As future administrations make their contributions, contrasting studies could be made. "Each administration will have its own set of Web sites," Bellardo said. "They will develop them over time. That gives each administration the opportunity to project its own particular strategic vision." Some federal CIOs and their deputies fumed at the last-minute order from NARA and the exhaustive archival effort it required. To make the job easier, NARA is encouraging agencies to make backups of their pages-something most agencies already do regularly-and to use those preserved copies to make the final snapshots, which must be delivered to NARA within the next 60 days. Those backups were to be made by January 20, said Andrea Norris, deputy chief information officer for management at NASA and a member of the CIO Council. The council discussed the impending records transfer at a meeting last week, Norris said, and requested all Webmasters to make backups of their sites, starting with those that have the highest public visibility. Norris said that NASA would not be able to make the actual screen snapshots by January 20. Bellardo said agency concerns that there isn't enough time to complete NARA's request are valid. "We would have liked to have gotten [the memo] out sooner," he acknowledged. As of Friday afternoon, Bellardo was not aware of any agencies that had handed in their Web site pages for archiving.
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