Senate Subcommittee Holds Oversight Hearing of the National Archives

May 16, 2008

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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Update on Legislation to Access CRS Reports

April 3, 2008

Back in December, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a hearing on the E-Government Reauthorization Act of 2007 (S. 2321), introduced by Committee Chairman Joseph I. Lieberman (I-CT). As we reported here in the Blawg, Chairman Lieberman introduced another piece of legislation at the hearing, S.RES.401, to provide the public with access to Congressional Research Service (CRS) publications online.

The proposal is now stalled in the Senate Rules Committee. Chairwoman of the Committee Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) supports a scaled-back plan for public access to CRS reports, in which members would choose whether to make reports public. For details about this development, please see Dan Friedman’s article on GovExec.com and a summary of the issue at stake by Sunlight Foundation’s John Wonderlich at the Open House Project.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]


E-Government Reauthorization Moving in the Senate

January 31, 2008

On December 11, 2007, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a hearing on the E-Government Reauthorization Act of 2007 (S. 2321). The legislation, introduced one month earlier by Chairman Joseph I. Lieberman (I-CT), would reauthorize the E-Government Act of 2002 and add a provision to improve the searchability of government websites.

I attended the hearing, E-Government 2.0: Improving Innovation, Collaboration, and Access”. The hearing explored three topics, as introduced by Chairman Lieberman: how close the government has come to reaching the goal of the E-Government Act of 2002; the problem of the searchability of government websites; and how new collaborative technologies can strengthen interaction among government agencies and the public. Witnesses included Karen S. Evans [testimony] , Administrator of the Office of Electronic Government and Information Technology within the Office of Management and Budget; John Lewis Needham [testimony], Manager of Public Sector Content Partnerships at Google; Ari Schwartz [testimony], Deputy Director of the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT); and Jimmy Wales [testimony], Founder of Wikipedia. CDT and OMB Watch released a report, “Hiding in Plain Sight: Why Important Government Information Cannot Be Found Through Commercial Search Engines,” addressing the problems of searchability of government websites.

At the hearing, Chairman Lieberman also introduced S.RES.401 to provide the public with access to Congressional Research Service (CRS) publications online. CRS is the non-partisan public policy research arm of Congress and produces reports for members of Congress on legislative issues. Constituents may request reports from their representatives. Several non-profit groups (through Open CRS ) and academic sites have been offering access to selected reports (see Guide to CRS Reports on the Web), but this resolution would provide expanded, comprehensive, and free access to these reports. We support this measure, along with the E-Government Reauthorization bill.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]


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