NARA gets more time to set archiving policy

A federal district court judge is giving the government some breathing room in
finalizing a policy on preserving electronic records.

District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman, in a Sept. 29 ruling, modified his April
decision that ordered the National Archives and Records Administration to have new
electronic records guidelines in place by Sept. 30.

Agencies can continue to use their existing processes to deal with electronic records
until NARA creates a new policy.

The extension is good until NARA creates a new plan or Friedman issues another order.

Archivist John Carlin had asked Friedman for the extension. He made the request in a
court filing that included initial policy recommendations from NARA’s Electronic
Records Workgroup. In a memo accepting the workgroup’s recommendations, Carlin noted
that implementing a policy on the storage and destruction of electronic records will take
time [GCN, Sept. 28, Page 8].

Public Citizen, a Washington advocacy group, successfully sued the government last year
over the existing policy. It argued that NARA’s rule for electronic documents,
General Records Schedule 20, was illegal. Under GRS-20, agencies could delete electronic
records as long as they made copies in some format.

Public Citizen objected to the NARA request for more time to develop a new policy.

Friedman said he sympathized with the group’s concerns that a delay would let
agencies continue to delete potentially crucial records. “On balance the court finds
that, at least in the short term, the harm that may result from granting a modification is
significantly outweighed by the harm to the government,” he said.

Without an extension, agencies would be in the “untenable position either of
disregarding the court’s previous orders or facing information overload. Both of
these outcomes would have a deleterious effect” on how agencies operate, Friedman

Carlin said the extension will give NARA needed time to help agencies sort out which
records to retain in their original electronic formats and for how long.

NARA later this month will distribute a draft regulation on establishing agency
policies for handling electronic records. It will deal with, for instance, how to set a
schedule program, how to sort out administrative records from other documents and how to
create separate schedule for information technology systems documents.

The agency also plans to form a follow-on workgroup to the Electronic Records
Workgroup. This second body will draft a strategy on developing electronic record-keeping
systems, Carlin said. 


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