The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on July 24 favorably reported a bill that requires agencies to fire employees who intentionally and maliciously destroy federal records. The Federal Records Accountability Act (H.R. 5170) is another response to the recent failures of federal agencies to properly retain official records in compliance with the Federal Records Act.
“From Lois Lerner at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to April Sands at the Federal Election Commission (FEC), it is clear that more enforcement and accountability is needed to ensure that records are kept and the law is upheld,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), the bill’s sponsor.
In addition to cracking down on employees who destroy federal records, the legislation would require the appointment of senior agency officials for records management, who would be tasked with ensuring that each agency’s leadership properly complies with federal recordkeeping laws. This includes reporting missing or destroyed records to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and ensuring the public disclosure of such information on the agency’s website.
The committee approved two amendments that expanded the scope of the legislation. One amendment, offered by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), would require NARA to promulgate regulations governing federal agency preservation of electronic federal records. These regulations must ensure the electronic capture, management, and preservation of electronic records, as well as their ready accessibility through electronic searches. They also must provide the mandatory minimum functional requirements necessary to comply with electronic storage and retrieval guidelines and establish a process to certify agency electronic records management systems meet the necessary functional requirements.
A second amendment, offered by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), requires each federal agency to designate e-mail accounts that should be preserved and retained as records. It requires the Government Accountability Office to report on agency compliance with electronic record retention every two years and mandates that agency inspectors general conduct a review of policies and compliance with the Federal Records Act. In addition, it codifies NARA’s voluntary guidance regarding automated capturing of e-mail records, known as “Capstone,” which replaces the manual “print and file” process that agencies use to comply with the Federal Records Act.
“Federal agencies need to make records management a top priority instead of relying on officials to print out correspondence they deem important,” said Speier in a statement. “The missing Lois Lerner e-mails have created a level of mistrust in the American people that must be restored.”
The legislation, which must still be considered by the full House and then by the Senate, is unlikely to be enacted into law this year. Congress is in the middle of a five-week recess, and both chambers are planning to be in session for only two weeks in September before recessing again until after the November elections.