Bureau puts more resources into its records management

The FBI's William Hooton says records management is now the largest division in the bureau, reflecting emphasis on better file handling.

The FBI is devoting additional attention'and a lot more people'to records management these days.

Assistant director William Hooton told the recent E-Gov conference in Washington that 1,000 staff members have been transferred into the new Records Management Division'the largest unit at the bureau's Washington headquarters, with five new positions authorized at the Senior Executive Service level.

Criminal evidence in itself does not constitute an official bureau record, Hooton said, but any analysis of the evidence is a record.

For 90 years the FBI had an efficient paper filing system, mostly because of director J. Edgar Hoover, Hooton said. Special agents used whatever method made them comfortable, such as filing cabinets under their desks.

Time for a change

As long as the agents were solving their cases, bureau officials were reluctant to force a change, Hooton said. But events have combined to drive change, from the post-Sept. 11 need to collaborate with other law enforcement agencies to the last-minute discovery of documents in the Timothy McVeigh case, which delayed execution of the convicted Oklahoma City bomber for several weeks.

'We basically stumbled on some things we didn't know we had,' Hooton said. 'Congress went ballistic.'

Records management is getting strong support from FBI director Robert S. Mueller III, Hooton said. Mueller also has made IT upgrading one of the bureau's top priorities.

Michael Miller, director of the Modern Records Program at the National Archives and Records Administration, said he will join Hooton's division at the FBI.

Referring to the still-unsolved case of anthrax spores in postal mail that disrupted numerous Washington workplaces last fall, Miller urged agency officials to answer the question, 'If you're going to be separated from the records you use every day, what would you need to work?'

Not all records are vital, Miller said. Vital records might include emergency operating orders, payroll and retirement records, contracts, entitlements or leases. Each agency should appoint a vital-records team to develop and enforce policies relevant to the organization's responsibilities, Miller said.

Dorothy Slovak, a lawyer with Holland & Knight LLP of Washington, said lawyers traditionally have sent their opponents to musty warehouses to dig through mountains of documents, 'and, trust me, we still try to do that.'

But today database and document searches can be fast, easy and efficient for adversaries.
E-mail is 'uniquely permanent' because experts can recover messages from almost anywhere they have been stored, Slovak said. Courts often impose severe sanctions if deletions continue after the destroyer is aware of pending litigation.

But courts do respect reasonable deletion protocols within the context of a document retention system, as long as agencies adhere to their retention and deletion schedule in good faith, Slovak said.

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