Some Federal E-Mail Systems Won’t Meet 2016 Deadline

By: Cheryl Bolen, Bloomberg BNA, 7/21/2016

Not all federal agencies will meet the Dec. 31 Obama administration deadline to install a record-keeping system to track, sort and store e-mail.

Even the intense public scrutiny of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s handling of e-mail has not created the hoped-for urgency among federal agencies to get their e-mail systems in order, a government watchdog said.

“The goal is to try and get as many agencies compliant by the end of December 2016, and then continue to work with those agencies where progress needs to be made beyond that,” said Laurence Brewer, the chief records officer at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), in an interview with Bloomberg BNA.

Deadline Drawing Near

President Barack Obama started the process five years ago on Nov. 28, 2011, when he signed a presidential memorandum on managing government records.

To implement that order, in August 2012, the director of the Office of Management and Budget and the archivist of the U.S. issued a directive to all federal agencies requiring the use of electronic record keeping.

The directive required federal agencies by Dec. 31, 2016, to manage both permanent and temporary e-mail records in an accessible, electronic format. The system had to be capable of identifying, retrieving and retaining the records for as long as they were needed. The agencies were asked to report annually on their progress toward this goal.

Enforcement Problem

Anne Weismann, executive director of Campaign for Accountability, a government watchdog group, said a key component—missing from the directive and the Federal Records Act—is enforcement.

“I think in part it’s a financial outlay that agencies may feel like they don’t have the funds for,” Weismann told Bloomberg BNA, “But I also think that agencies—and we’ve seen this play out with the State Department—they don’t take their recordkeeping responsibilities seriously enough.”

This is because the penalties for noncompliance are virtually nonexistent, Weismann said.

Weismann pointed to a bill approved by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee this month that would mandate penalties for mishandling e-mail (See previous story, 07/14/16).

The Federal Records Modernization Act (H.R. 5709), sponsored by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), would require that the head of an agency suspend an employee found by the agency’s inspector general to have willfully and unlawfully concealed or destroyed a federal record.

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