Congressional Changes Signal Federal Records Management Reform

    Nov 11, 2014

    Congressional oversight of records management policies, practices, and responsibilities in federal agencies could see a shift in direction as new leaders take control of both the House and Senate oversight committees, especially with Republicans poised to take control of the U.S. Senate in January.

    As far as the leadership positions in the Senate are concerned, the change in the majority ruling party will shift leadership on all committees.

    On the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the current chairman, Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), is expected to become the ranking Democratic member. However, it won’t simply be a swap in titles for the ranking members from each side of the aisle. The current ranking Republican, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), is retiring. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is next in line, but he is likely to take over the chairmanship of the Armed Service Committee. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), a moderate who chaired the committee from 2003 to 2007, could come back and serve in the post for two more years. The position, though, is expected to go to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), the conservative former businessman who currently serves as the ranking Republican on the Financial and Contracting Oversight Subcommittee, where he focused on acquisition oversight, wasteful spending, and federal regulation.

    In the House, Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darryl Issa (R-CA) will step down from that post as a result of term limits. In response to reported failures of federal agencies to properly archive official records in compliance with the Federal Records Act, he has sought to enact legislation to increase accountability. One measure (H.R. 5170) would require agencies to fire employees who intentionally and maliciously destroy federal records and 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. That legislation has stalled in the Senate.

    With Issa at the helm, the committee has also reported bills to help the National Archives and Records Administration and other agencies to: better handle the growing volume of electronic communication; require federal agencies to preserve electronic messages that are determined to be records; and eliminate the requirement that agencies print and file electronic documents considered to be official records. Only one of those measures (H.R. 1233) is likely to be enacted into law this year.

    With Republicans in control of the agenda on both sides of the Capitol for the next two years, increased coordination between the two oversight committees could significantly raise the prospects for legislative action on federal records management reform.

    Four members of the House Oversight Committee are vying to replace Issa as the next chairman; a decision about this is expected to be made this week by the Republican Steering Committee, a group made up of elected leaders and other key party officials.

    The most senior member seeking the post is Rep. John Mica (R-FL) who, as the current chair of the Government Operations Subcommittee, has focused on reforming federal information technology programs. Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH), who is next in seniority after Mica, is seeking the post as a centrist candidate who wants to “conduct responsible oversight and adopt meaningful reform to eliminate and prevent waste, fraud, and mismanagement.”

    Despite their seniority, Mica and Turner are confronting a strong challenge from three-term Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who heads the oversight committee's National Security Subcommittee. He also has taken the lead on investigating recent security lapses by the Secret Service and has stated publicly that he would like to see more cooperation between Republicans and Democrats on the committee.  

    The fourth candidate, considered a long-shot, is Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), who currently chairs the panel’s Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Job Creation and Regulatory Affairs. In recent years, his oversight focus has been on the IRS treatment of political groups and efforts by the Justice Department to encourage banks and other third-party payment processors to refuse banking services to companies and industries that are deemed to pose a risk to consumers.

    The Washington Policy Brief is an online advisory that contains brief summaries of recent legislative and regulatory issues that may affect the records and information management profession. Further information about the issue is accessed by clicking on the link provided at the end of each summary.


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