Judicial Watch • Most Fed Agencies Violate Records Laws

Most Fed Agencies Violate Records Laws

Most Fed Agencies Violate Records Laws

NOVEMBER 30, 2011

In what may seem like a joke, federal agencies that have long failed to meet statutory requirements for maintaining records will help the Obama Administration craft a long-awaited, government-wide system to store and manage electronic files.

The White House has ordered agencies to submit recommendations by May 2012 to help create a new directive that will ultimately transform the government’s notoriously inept record-keeping operation. In the end, there will be an efficient and uniform records management system never before seen in the bloated federal government.

The agencies will report their ideas for improving the way they store and manage electronic files, including emails, blog posts and social media activity, according a news report that cites a White House memo issued this week. The goal is to make better use of electronic document storage technology and to create a government-wide records management framework.

This 360-degree turnaround is laughable considering the current system, which lacks any sort of uniform rules. At most government agencies employees decide which emails they think they may be required to keep, which is comical to say the least. And, as the political magazine that reported the story points out, this significantly raises the risk that emails will be lost or misplaced or that employees won’t accurately determine which messages must be archived.

Additionally, 95% of agencies fail to meet statutory requirements for maintaining files, according to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). How did the NARA come up with this figure? Based on agency self-assessments that indicate most aren’t saving the proper records or storing them electronically to ensure that they can be retrieved in the future. In other words, they openly admit that they’re blowing off record laws.

This development comes on the heels of a separate but equally disappointing move by the Obama Administration, which promised unprecedented transparency, involving public records. For nearly a year, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), a cabinet-level agency within the Executive Office of the President of the United States, has failed to approve recommendations for improving public records requests under the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The recommendations were created by a branch, the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), created two years ago to mediate disputes between those who request public records and the agencies that process the requests. The OGIS is also tasked with recommending policy changes to the president and Congress that will bring transparency and efficiency to the FOIA process.

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