POGO has joined a diverse coalition of organizations in supporting the passage of H.R. 5811, the Electronic Message Preservation Act, introduced by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) several weeks ago. This sorely needed piece of legislation would update the Presidential Records Act and Federal Records Act to address the challenge of handling records in an age of electronic communication.
Just how bad is the current state of electronic record-keeping? According to a report issued last year by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), the White House lost over five million emails between 2003 and 2005. Both CREW and the National Security Archive have filed motions seeking to retrieve and preserve the missing emails. (For those interested in all the juicy details, the National Security Archive has created an extensive chronology of the White House email saga.)
H.R. 5811 would require the National Archives to issue new standards for the "capture, management, and preservation" of White House emails and other electronic communications, and to certify that the White House complies with these standards. Also, in an effort to address the wide disparity in record-keeping practices throughout the federal government, the bill would direct the National Archives to require federal agencies to preserve their electronic communications in a standardized electronic format. Right now, many agencies simply “print and file” their electronic records, which might be acceptable except for the fact that so many records have a nasty tendency to disappear.