History Coalition Endorses “Electronic Message Preservation Act”

In a letter to Representative Henry A. Waxman, Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the National Coalition for History this week endorsed the “Electronic Message Preservation Act” (H.R. 5811, H. Rept. 110-709). The bill would direct the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to establish standards for the capture, management, preservation and retrieval of federal agency and presidential electronic messages that are records in an electronic format.

NARA would have 18 months to promulgate the regulations to implement the bill’s requirements. Federal agencies and the White House would then have no more than four years to comply. NARA would then be required to report to Congress on White House and Federal agency compliance.

There would be an additional requirement for presidential records. One year following the completion of a President’s term in office, NARA would be required to report to Congress on the status of the transition of that President’s records into his or her archival depository.

The letter to Chairman Waxman follows:

June 13, 2008

The Honorable Henry A. Waxman
Chairman
Committee on Oversight & Government Reform
U.S. House of Representatives
2157 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20151

Dear Mr. Chairman:

On behalf of the National Coalition for History, I am writing today to endorse H.R. 5811 the “Electronic Message Preservation Act.”

The National Coalition for History (NCH) is a consortium of over 60 organizations that advocates on federal legislative and regulatory issues affecting historians, archivists, teachers, researchers, and other stakeholders. As historians, researchers and conservators of American history and culture we care deeply about the preservation of electronic records by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

At a recent hearing on H.R. 5811 before the Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census and the National Archives, Ms. Linda Koontz, Director of Information Management at the Government Accountability Office said in response to a question that records management is afforded a “low priority” at federal agencies and that a mandate was necessary to encourage agencies to meet their responsibilities for records preservation.

We agree. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) should be given statutory authority to issue regulations requiring for federal agencies to preserve electronic messages that are records in an electronic format. NARA also must be given oversight responsibility to set meaningful time frames to ensure compliance.

Through your committee’s vigorous oversight, we have learned of the millions of White House e-mails that are either missing or have been destroyed. In court documents filed recently, the White House admitted that that it has no computer back-up tapes with data written before May 23, 2003, and that it cannot track the history of missing e-mails created between March and May 2003.

This three-month gap includes the historically critical period from when the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003, and the May 1, 2003 announcement by President Bush that major combat operations had ended in Iraq. If these records are indeed lost, imagine the difficulties that future historians of the Iraq War will have in presenting a full picture of the decisions that led us into this conflict.

As a result, we find the need for the establishment of electronic record keeping standards to be equally, if not more, compelling for presidential electronic records. We agree with the bill’s mandates that the Archivist of the United States should establish standards for the capture, management and preservation of White House e-mails and other electronic messages.

We hope that the Congress will enact H.R. 5811 before it adjourns this year and we offer whatever assistance we can to help you achieve this goal.

Sincerely,

Lee White
Executive Director

Cc: Representative Thomas M. Davis III
Representative Wm. Lacy Clay
Representative Michael Turner

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