The Presidential and Federal Records Act Amendments (H.R. 1233), a bill to improve the recordkeeping and information management activities of federal departments and agencies, took one step closer to enactment on September 10 when the Senate passed the legislation by unanimous consent.
The measure originally passed the House of Representatives in January 2014, but the Senate made a number of technical changes to the legislation, which must now be reapproved by the House before it is sent to the president for his signature. The House is expected to take up and pass the amended version of H.R. 1233 during the lame duck session of Congress in November.
While a significant focus is on updating the Presidential Records Act of 1978 to address the uncertainty associated with the handling of executive privilege claims over presidential records, the legislation also makes a number of improvements to the Federal Records Act, originally enacted six decades earlier to address poor agency recordkeeping practices.
“Despite the best efforts of the National Archives to modernize federal records management policies and practices, antiquated laws have made it difficult for federal professionals who manage records to handle the growing volume of electronic communications,” noted Liz Icenogle, ARMA’s government relations manager. “This legislation will make their jobs a little bit easier.”
The measure updates the definition of what constitutes a “record” by removing references to specific kinds of physical media, such as audio and audiovisual records so it now includes “all information,” regardless of its form or characteristic. It also gives the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) the authority to issue regulations regarding what constitutes a record for purposes of preserving, maintaining, and handling electronic communications.
To discourage agency officials from conducting official business on their personal phones and e-mail accounts, the legislation prohibits federal employees from creating or sending a record from a nonofficial electronic messaging account without ensuring that the record is also copied or forwarded within 20 days to the official electronic messaging account of the officer or employee.
“Enactment of the Presidential and Federal Records Act Amendments is a significant step toward giving records management professionals the tools they need to implement a modern recordkeeping system throughout the federal government,” Icenogle stated. “ARMA looks forward to working with Congress and the administration to do more to address the government’s compliance challenges and to make information governance a priority of the U.S. government.”