Senate Subcommittee Holds Oversight Hearing of the National Archives

On Wednesday, May 14, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs’ Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services, and International Security held an oversight hearing of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The hearing focused on NARA’s electronic records management system and the preservation of executive branch electronic records, including White House emails.

The hearing featured two panels, the first of which included testimony from Allen Weinstein, Archivist of the United States, NARA; Linda Koontz, Director, Information and Management Issues, U.S. Government Accountability Office; and Paul Brachfeld, Inspector General, NARA. Brachfeld’s testimony provided a harsh critique of NARA’s Electronic Records Archives (ERA), and its plans to manage electronic White House Presidential Records.

The second panel included testimony from Patrice McDermott, Director, OpenTheGovernment.org; Thomas Blanton, Director, National Security Archive and co-chair of OpenTheGovernment.org; Dr. Jim Henderson, Former State Archivist, State of Maine; and Dr. Martin Sherwin, Professor of History, George Mason University.

AALL is following many of the issues addressed by Dr. McDermott in her testimony. For example, Dr. McDermott discussed NARA’s role as the site of new public access initiatives, including the Office of Government Information Services mandated by the OPEN Government Act (see the January Edition of the AALL’s Washington E-Bulletin). NARA is also designated as the “Executive Agent” responsible for implementing the White House’s new Designation and Sharing of Controlled Unclassified Information (see our previous blog post). Dr. McDermott also addressed NARA’s electronic records management responsibilities and NARA’s decision to stop taking snapshots of federal agency websites (see the April Edition of the Washington E-Bulletin).

In addition, Dr. McDermott’s testimony addressed NARA’s efforts to increase access to digital records by entering into partnerships with private sector entities to digitize historical holdings. Dr. Weinstein also addressed these partnerships in his testimony. This was a timely discussion, because late last week NARA released its new Strategy for Digitizing Archival Materials for Public Access, 2007-2016, building on its former strategic plans and addressing some of the input NARA received from stakeholders, including AALL. This new document outlines NARA’s approach to digitization projects and includes NARA’s “Principles for Partnerships to Digitize Archival Materials.” We are pleased that the document addresses some of the issues AALL pointed out in the comments we submitted last November, including that free access to digitized materials be available in a timely fashion. In addition, we commend NARA for its commitment to issue calls for comments on proposed partnerships. NARA also published a list of the types of comments they received during the public comment period.

Wednesday’s hearing, the Subcommittee’s first NARA oversight hearing in more than three years, was an important look at NARA’s efforts to manage information in the digital age. We thank the Subcommittee for holding the hearing and hope that the increased oversight and attention will lead to a stronger National Archives.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

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