Many U.S. government records and information managers undoubtedly gave an extra thanks for long-overdue amendments to the U.S. Federal Records Act at their Thanksgiving feast. The original U.S. records laws were passed in 1950, a time when few (if any) envisioned the dramatic life- and business-changing impact that personal computers and their resulting electronic documents would have worldwide. Having not been updated since the act’s original passage, suffice it to say the laws were woefully out-of-date.
The day before Thanksgiving, President Obama signed a bipartisan bill that finally brought the nation’s records laws into the 21st century. Briefly, the amendments:
- Expanded the definition of a “record” to clearly include electronic records. This is the first official change to that definition since 1950. Further, the revised law granted the U.S. archivist the final say on what constitutes a federal record.
- Confirmed that federal electronic records will be transferred to the National Archives in electronic form and empowered the National Archives to safeguard records from unauthorized removal
- Spelled out the responsibilities of federal officials when using non-government e-mail systems
- Codified procedures by which former and incumbent presidents review presidential records for constitutional privileges. This process was formerly controlled by an executive order and subject to change by different administrations.
- Authorized transferring permanent electronic federal and presidential records to the National Archives, yet leaving legal custody with the agency or the president
The amendments complement efforts to implement the President’s 2011 Memorandum on Managing Government Records.
See the December Washington Policy Brief for a more extensive analysis of the amendments by Jason R. Baron, Esq.