To ensure meaningful advances in information disclosure under the new directive, the Obama administration must address the ongoing problem of electronic recordkeeping. Across the federal government, agencies do not have adequate systems to store and retrieve electronic records, including e-mail communications, to ensure that these records are properly archived, preserved, searchable, and accessible for public disclosure. Without a standardized approach that mandates electronic preservation, rather than relying on individual agencies and even employees to preserve government records, the transparency that President Obama envisioned in his directive cannot be implemented fully. The White House should support legislation that would mandate appropriate electronic records management.
The tens of billions of dollars of federal funds spent on information technology each year should include a portion dedicated to records lifecycle management, so we are not simply pushing costs down the road. The federal IT budget process should require new spending to include electronic records lifecycle considerations.
Moreover, the administration should work to standardize the records retention process across the government. The National Research Council in its 2005 report on the National Archives and Records Administration’s Electronic Records Archives’ (ERA) long-term strategy recommended requiring “all newly acquired agency systems that produce permanent records to do the following: create those records in formats acceptable to NARA, include explicit metadata in their output, and use standardized mechanisms for transferring records to NARA.” The Council’s report even suggested that NARA should plan for the ERA to become the “off-site backup of agency records” in order to build in archival ingestion of records as close as possible to their creation.