The importance of maintaining electronic records in this era of government secrecy hasnever been greater. Email in particular, that most ubiquitous form of communication, plays inincreasingly important role in explaining what our government has done and why. Yet eventhough information technology is advancing by leaps and bounds, the federal government hasfallen woefully behind in managing its electronic records. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethicsin Washington (CREW), with the assistance of OpenTheGovernment.org, has studied the issueof electronic record keeping in the federal government and prepared this report to identify themost serious government failings and how they can be addressed to bring the federal governmentinto the 21st century.We looked at the issue from two different perspectives. First, we examined the legalframeworks that guide federal agencies and the private sector in managing their electronicrecord keeping systems. Analyzing trends in civil litigation, we were able to identifyvulnerabilities and potential liabilities that non-complying agencies are likely to face. Second,we looked at specific agency policies and practices to ascertain just how far off course thefederal government is. The results confirmed our everyday experience, that the vast majority of federal agencies have made little or no progress in effectively managing their electronic records.CREW’s report is by no means comprehensive, as we had limited means to monitoractual agency practices. Yet across the board our results were consistent and sounded a loud andclear alarm: the federal government is not effectively managing one of its most valuableresources, information. As a result, the public is being deprived of access to government recordsthat shine a public light on what the government is doing and ensure accountability for ourgovernment’s actions.The situation is all the more disturbing given the ready availability of off-the-shelf andeasily customized software and technology tools and the wealth of guidance that groups such asthe Sedona Conference have offered. In this arena there is an ever widening gap between thepractices in the private sector -- where companies have embraced technology -- and the practicesin the federal government -- where agencies have repudiated or ignored technology in favor of outdated paper record keeping systems and practices.It is our hope that by highlighting where the federal government has gone wrong in itsmismanagement of electronic records, federal agencies and Congress will be spurred to act togive agency record keeping the priority it deserves.
To determine federal agency compliance with electronic record keeping obligations,CREW submitted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to a variety of cabinet-levelagencies seeking their written guidance and policies on electronic record keeping within theiragencies. CREW also submitted FOIA requests to a handful of agencies on discrete topics to testthe agencies’ ability to locate and produce responsive email records. To ascertain actual agencypractices, CREW, with the assistance of OpenTheGovernment.org, prepared an on-line survey