In an editorial published March 19 in Government Executive, ARMA International President Fred Pulzello, IGP, CRM, wrote that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) needs additional authority and resources from Congress to address the government’s compliance challenges.
He also urged the federal government to enlist the private sector to help – something the ARMA-led Coalition for Public Sector Information Governance Leadership was created in January to do. “We hope senior agency leaders will take advantage of this resource,” Pulzello said.
According to Pulzello, NARA is struggling to implement a modern recordkeeping system throughout the federal government under difficult budgetary constraints. He noted NARA’s fiscal year budget proposal calls for an increase in funding and personnel to enhance the compliance capabilities of government agencies. This is a good start, he said, “but the resources requested are woefully inadequate to the task.”
Government recordkeeping has been under an intense spotlight in recent months following revelations that several high-level government executives, including former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy, conducted official government business with private e-mail accounts and destroyed e-mails and text messages that potentially should have been retained.
On March 25, current Secretary of State John Kerry sent a letter to Steve Linick, the State Department’s inspector general, requesting that Linick review the department’s efforts to improve records management and make recommendations for meeting the challenges of “putting the principles of preservation and transparency into action,” particularly as it applies to preserving e-mails and responding to Freedom of Information Act and congressional inquiries.
“It is critical for the State Department to preserve a full and complete record of American foreign policy, consistent with federal laws and regulations,” Kerry wrote. “It is also important for the American public to have access to that record.”
Linick acknowledged he has begun probing the matter. “We are now conducting preliminary work to determine the proper scope and methodology for a review of the department's ability to preserve information and respond to information requests, among other things,” he told the Washington Examiner.
On the same day Kerry’s letter was sent, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee authorized a subpoena to compel the EPA to turn over nearly 6,000 deleted text messages McCarthy had received between 2009 and 2014 on an EPA-provided mobile phone. In a letter to McCarthy, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) said he was forced to issue a subpoena after the EPA provided “partial responses” to the committee's repeated requests.
The next day, March 26, the Subcommittee on Environment and Subcommittee on Oversight held a joint hearing to examine the procedures for retaining records in light of the destruction of records at the EPA.
“Records created or received in the conduct of federal business, including text messages and other forms of electronic communication that document these transactions, can be federal records and are federal records that need to be managed appropriately,” Paul Wester, NARA’s chief records officer, told the subcommittees.
In his March 19 editorial, Pulzello also emphasized that federal records managers need an occupational classification that recognizes their increased importance.
“Effectively managing the government’s information assets across a myriad of departments and agencies is a complicated endeavor,” Pulzello said. “The dedicated federal professionals who manage records along with those at NARA who are responsible for the implementation of federal records policy lack both the authority and resources to compel consistent implementation and compliance across programs, departments and agencies.”