Publication Date

March 1, 2000

Perspectives Section

News

National Archives Bulletin on Electronic Records

On December 28 the National Archives issued Bulletin 2000-02, which addresses policies related to electronic copies created using word-processing software or electronic mail. The new bulletin suspends the March bulletin, 99-04, that implemented the recommendations of the Electronic Records Working Group, an interagency team with outside specialists. The new bulletin shifts the National Archives’ policy back to a study mode.

The now-suspended March bulletin had directed agencies on how to begin work toward scheduling their programmatic electronic records. The new bulletin allows agencies to dispose of electronic records if there is an existing appraisal schedule for the record series and if a copy of the record has been made and placed in a paper, electronic, or microform recordkeeping system. The new bulletin basically retains the old reliance on paper and postpones work toward implementing electronic filing systems.

The National Archives’ press release on the new bulletin states that the National Archives is undertaking a comprehensive review of the policies and procedures for scheduling and appraisal of records in all formats. At the completion of the review, in about 18 months, the National Archives will issue new guidance on the handling of electronic records.

In describing the factors that led to the decision to issue Bulletin 2000-02, the National Archives highlighted the August 6 appeals court decision, which reversed the October 22, 1997, decision of Judge Friedman that stated that the National Archives’ regulations that allow federal agencies to destroy electronic programmatic records were null and void . The appeals court decision let stand the National Archives’ policy of allowing electronic records to be destroyed if those records having permanent value are copied onto paper or an electronic recordkeeping system. The National Archives also stressed that since the National Archives plans to significantly change its appraisal procedures, federal agency resources that would be used to develop and submit schedules under Bulletin 99- 04 would be better used to schedule previously unscheduled records. The new bulletin does make clear that the printing of an electronic record onto paper for filing in a paper recordkeeping system is only permissible for electronic copies of scheduled records. If a record is part of a new or revised records series that has not been scheduled, the agency would have to develop a retention of disposal schedule for the electronic record series.

On November 4, Public Citizen—joined by the AHA, the Organization of American Historians, the National Security Archive, the American Library Association, the Center for National Security Studies, and several researchers-petitioned the Supreme Court to reverse the appeals court ruling on electronic records policy. A copy of the National Archives’ Bulletin 2000-02 is posted on the National Archives’ web site at https://www.nara.gov/records/policy/b2000-02.html.

Presidential Memorandum on Information Technology

On December 17 the president issued a memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies on the use of information technology to improve our society. The memorandum emphasizes the role of the Internet “in changing the way we work, learn, communicate with each other, and do business.” While the president stresses that his administration has led the effort to explain and to support the commercial and societal benefits of the information technology to the American people, he states that “we can and must do more.”

The memorandum directs agency heads to adopt policies that will remove barriers to private sector investment in Internet applications; explore partnerships with commercial companies, state and local governments, and nonprofit organizations and universities; explore innovative mechanisms for fostering a national discussion on the potential of the electronic society; consider other policies to promote the electronic society; and review the recommendations of the president’s Information Technology Advisory Committee.

The memorandum also includes 16 sections that direct heads of certain departments to take specific steps. For example, the secretary of education shall support and encourage states and local communities to make “school report cards” available on the Internet, shall promote the use of innovative distance learning technology, and shall adopt programs to promote teacher training in the new educational technology. And in item 13, the president elects the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, the director of the National Science Foundation, the director of the National Park Service, and the director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services to work with the private sector and cultural and educational institutions across the country to create a Digital Library of Education to house this country’s cultural and educational resources.

Page Putnam Miller is the director of the National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History.

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