The Consortium Report
A project of The Media Consortium

Preserving White House Emails… Eventually

by Brian Beutler, The Media Consortium: Wed., Apr 16, 2008
Filed under: Congressional Oversight

The missing White House email scandal raises one very obvious set of questions. Namely: Where’d they go and what did they say? Those questions will hopefully be addressed as Congress investigates the controversy, but the inquiries won’t answer another, perhaps equally important question: How can this be prevented from happening again?

The solution may lie in a new piece of House legislation, a summary of which was circulated at an unexpectedly pre-empted Oversight hearing that had been scheduled for today. Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-MO), chair of the Information Policy, Census, and National Archives subcommittee has sponsored the Electronic Communications Preservation Act, which modernizes the Presidential Records Act and the Federal Records Act and “directs the Archivist [of the United States] to issue regulations requiring agencies to preserve electronic communication in an electronic format.”

The bill comes on the heels of two recent reports–one by the Government Accountability Office and another by the non-profit government watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington–each of which found that federal agencies, lacking uniform guidelines for preserving electronic records, have regularly resorted to “print and file” systems, resulting in significant losses of official documents.

The hearing itself was postponed at the last minute because of a series of votes on the House floor, but in prepared testimony (which remains unofficial and subject to change until the rescheduled hearing is conducted) one open-government advocate suggests that the bill doesn’t go far enough. Addressing the portion of the bill which updates the Federal Records Act, Patrice McDermott, director of noted that the National Archives and Record Administration “has been talking since at least 1996 about working ‘with agencies on the design of recordkeeping systems for creating and maintaining records of values.’”

“[T]he agencies,” she wrote, “have done nothing. NARA and the agencies don’t need another 18 months to ‘establish mandatory minimum functional requirements…’ Nor do the agencies need three more years–beyond the 18 months–to comply with a requirement to implement the regulations and an electronic records management system.” The bill summary notes that the Archivist will have “18 months to promulgate the regulations,” and that agencies “will have no more than four years following the enactment of the Act to comply.”

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The End of Impunity?

by Brian Beutler, The Media Consortium: Fri., Dec 14, 2007
Filed under: House Judiciary Committee Reports

The Senate Judiciary Committee is trying to revive a once-lively effort to hold the White House accountable for obstructing congressional oversight. Also: the explosive failure of a telecom immunity compromise.

By Brian Beutler
The Media Consortium

The Senate Judiciary Committee moved to revive a fading congressional zeal for holding the Bush administration accountable to Congress on Thursday by passing contempt resolutions against two of four White House officials who have refused to fully comply with committee subpoenas. The resolutions passed 12 to 7, with Republicans Charles Grassley of Iowa and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania voting with the Democrats.

Specter’s vote came reluctantly, issued only after his attempts to mollify the White House reached an impasse. Specter told the committee that he had accepted the White House’s position that presidential aides should be allowed to testify in private, not under oath, and without a transcript. But he drew the line at a White House demand that inquiries into the U.S. Attorney scandal come to an end. “We cannot abrogate or relinquish our constitutional responsibilities,” the Republican insisted. Read the full report…

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