House Panel Clears Bill On Preservation of Federal & White House E-Mails

On May 1, 2008, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee reported out the “Electronic Communications Preservation Act” (H.R. 5811). The legislation would amend both the Federal Records and Presidential Records Acts by requiring the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to establish standards for the capture, management, preservation and electronic retrieval of Federal agency and White House e-mail communications. The National Coalition for History supports passage of H.R. 5811.

The version passed by the Committee was amended in two critical ways. First, the term “electronic communications” in the original bill was changed to “electronic messages” in the version that cleared the Committee. At last week’s hearing on the bill, Paul M. Wester, Jr., NARA’s Director of the Modern Records Program had testified that the term “electronic communications” in the bill was overbroad and ambiguous. As a result, the language was changed to “electronic messages” to clarify that the bill’s intent was to capture and preserve e-mail communications “that are records.”

Second, the language defining the parameters for software designed to operate the electronic management system was amended to provide greater flexibility to allow for future technological improvements.

NARA would have 18 months to promulgate the regulations mandated by the bill. Federal agencies and the White House would then have no more than four years to comply. After that, NARA would 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 their archival depository.