For Immediate Release
CREW Asks Government Oversight to Rework Proposed Federal and Presidential Records Acts Bill
WASHINGTON - Today, in light of several federal and presidential records lawsuits
and extensive study of the issue, Citizens for Responsibility and
Ethics in Washington (CREW) asked Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-NY), chairman
of the House Committee on Oversight and Govt. Reform, to make
significant changes to HR 1387, the Electronic Message Preservation
Act. The proposed legislation would amend both the Federal Records Act
(FRA) and the Presidential Records Act (PRA) to address shortcomings
with both statutes.
As CREW’s letter outlines, the proposed amendments -- identical to
the legislation proposed by the Committee last session -- fail to
address critical issues and loopholes in the existing laws. There are
no effective enforcement mechanisms to ensure agencies preserve
electronic records or to force the lackadaisical National Archives and
Records Administration (NARA) to do its job of ensuring preservation of
those records. Further, despite well-documented problems with
presidential record keeping, the proposed legislation fails to provide
any effective check against a president or vice president who flouts
their PRA responsibilities.
CREW recommends amending the legislation to establish effective
enforcement mechanisms as well as specific penalties for non-compliance
with the FRA. As currently written, the FRA penalizes only the unlawful
removal or destruction of records and neither that law nor the proposed
legislation provides any penalties for an agency’s failure to comply
with all other requirements of the FRA.
Second, agencies should have two, not four, years to establish
electronic records keeping systems. The four-year time frame fails to
take into account currently available records management software and
the many years agencies already have had to figure out how to manage
their electronic records.
Third, the legislation should create comprehensive benchmarks for
agencies in the areas of training, education, and compliance. Numerous
Government Accountability Office reports have identified these as gaps
in the way agencies manage their electronic records, but HR 1387 does
nothing to address these critical issues.
Finally, Congress must elevate the importance of electronic record
keeping within agencies and ensure that NARA and the archivist take on
a more pro-active role by requiring top agency officials to take
responsibility for managing records.
The PRA should be amended to include specific penalties for a
president’s failure to implement an effective system to manage and
preserve electronic presidential records and to provide
non-governmental organizations like CREW the right to sue to enforce
compliance. The creation of such a private right of action would help
ensure significant historical records are preserved for future
Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW, said today, “As recent
events demonstrate, Congress clearly needs to amend the FRA and the PRA
to protect our nation’s history. The Bush administration proved that
without strong, comprehensive record keeping laws, records that
rightfully belong to the American people may be permanently lost,
preventing us from fully understanding our nation’s past.” Sloan
continued, “Unfortunately, as written the Electronic Message
Preservation Act is not that legislation. We urge the committee to
revise and strengthen this bill before moving it any further.”
Read CREW’s letter to Chairman Towns in the Related Documents section on the right.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to promoting ethics and accountability in government and public life by targeting government officials -- regardless of party affiliation -- who sacrifice the common good to special interests. CREW advances its mission using a combination of research, litigation and media outreach.