The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) on May 19 announced that it is requesting comments from federal agencies on a draft bulletin entitled “Guidance on Managing Electronic Messages.” The document contains guidance on 11 questions applicable to text messaging, chat/instant messaging, messaging functionality in social media tools or apps, voice messaging, and similar forms of electronic messaging systems.
“The Bulletin addresses the new definition for electronic messages and other issues covered in the recent amendments to the Federal Records Act,” said Paul Wester, chief records officer
for the U.S. government, in a memorandum to federal agency contacts. “Overall, it provides basic records management guidance for electronic messages.”
NARA is developing the guidance to conform to legislation (H.R. 1233) signed into law by President Obama in November 2014, which created a new definition for electronic messages to mean “electronic mail and other electronic messaging systems that are used for purposes of communicating between individuals.” The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), capped a six-year effort to update the Federal Records Act and make it easier for federal professionals who manage records to handle the growing volume of electronic communications.
“Until now, the focus of that law was on the physical characteristics of how a record is preserved rather than on the actual information that was being stored,” wrote Tod Chernikoff, a Certified Records Manager, in a letter to the Baltimore Sun following passage of the legislation. “This resulted in controversies over the unauthorized disposal of email records at the IRS and other agencies, as well as other recent revelations about serious deficiencies with the records management policies, practices and responsibilities of Federal agencies.”
The NARA guidance is among the new policies and enforcement mechanisms expected to be created to govern how agencies preserve, maintain, and handle electronic communications going forward.
Those deadline for submitting comments was June 5.