National Archives Issues New Records Management Guidance for Electronic Records

    Aug 11, 2015

    The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) on July 29 announced the issuance of new records management guidance for federal agencies applicable to text messaging, instant messaging, and other forms of electronic communications, other than e-mail. 

    The final guidance was issued two days after members of Congress sent a letter to President Obama accusing the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of using a “wholly separate” instant messaging system that automatically deleted office communications.  The letter, signed by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and 20 other Republicans, accuses the IRS of purposefully using the system, known as “Office Communication Server” to evade federal records laws and public scrutiny regarding the targeting of conservative non-profit groups.

    “The failure of the IRS to properly preserve email and other records, coupled with its apparent institutional disregard for federal records laws, frustrates congressional oversight and prevents the American people from learning the full truth about the IRS’s targeting,” the letter states.

    On May 19, NARA issued a draft of 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.”  NARA then sought comments 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 final guidance replaces previous guidance on instant messaging, and covers a much broader list of electronic communications.  The guidance is in the form of 12 questions that cover federal records definitions, and addresses information governance challenges and requirements in managing electronic records.

    Among the challenges noted are electronic messaging systems that are not designed with records management functionality, the difficulty in associating messages with individual accounts or case files, and the ability to develop and implement appropriate records schedules for such messages and systems.

    “At this time, current business practices make it more likely other types of electronic messages, such as chat and text messages, contain transitory information or information of value for a much shorter period of time,” the guidance notes.  “Regardless, agencies must capture and manage these records in compliance with Federal records management laws, regulations, and policies.”

    “This Bulletin is consistent with the Managing Government Records Directive charge to develop a 21st-century framework for managing records,” stated Beth Cron, a NARA records policy analyst in an online blog posting.  “This Bulletin recognizes technology is rapidly changing and employees are using electronic messaging systems to conduct their work.

    “We aim to create guidance agencies can use as the technologies evolve,” she continued. “The rapid evolution of technologies requires agencies to automate records management processes to the fullest extent possible.”

    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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