NARA Clarifies Decision Not to “Harvest” Federal Agency Websites

On March 27, 2008, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) issued a memorandum, stating that it would not conduct a “harvest” of federal agency websites as they exist at the end of President Bush’s term as they did in 2001 and 2005. In response to concerns expressed by stakeholders, last week the National Archives issued further clarification stating “each agency is now responsible, in coordination with NARA, for determining how to manage its web records, including whether to preserve a periodic snapshot of its entire web page.”

The March 27 memo cited cost concerns and the fact that non-governmental websites provide federal website snapshots as rationale for NARA’s decision. The memo also pointed out that there is no NARA requirement for agencies to perform their own web snapshot at the end of the Administration if NARA does not conduct one.

In its April 15 statement, NARA expressed concern that some federal agencies would assume “If NARA is taking a web snapshot, why does our agency need to manage our own records?” NARA also questioned “the permanent archival value of a Federal agency web snapshot taken on one random day near the end of a Presidential term.”

NARA stated it would conduct a web harvest of Congressional web sites since the Federal Records Act does not cover them. In addition, NARA will also receive a web snapshot of the White House website since it is considered a permanent record under the Presidential Records Act.

Despite these clarifications by the National Archives, stakeholder groups remained concerned about NARA’s apparent reliance on non-governmental websites to preserve these historically valuable records.