Managing Emails & Government Records: Are your ducks in a row?

Though managing email records can feel like an impossible task, new guidance from NARA offers practical solutions for agencies. (National Archives Identifier 521897)
Though managing email records can feel like an impossible task, new guidance from NARA offers practical solutions for agencies. (National Archives Identifier 521897)

In his November 28, 2011 Presidential Memorandum -Managing Government Records, President Obama noted “proper records management is the backbone of open Government.” Sound records management helps agencies carry out their missions, promotes accountability by documenting agency activities, and fosters open Government. As we’ve written before, good records management is essential for good FOIA programs. That’s a message that Archivist of the United States David Ferriero brought to Capitol Hill on September 10, 2013.

To address the challenges of managing electronic records and rapid changes in technology, OGIS’s parent agency, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), recently issued guidance for Federal agencies on managing email electronically, managing email accounts, and protecting Federal Records from unauthorized removal.

NARA Bulletin 2013-02: Guidance on a New Approach to Managing Email Records presents “Capstone,” a simplified and automated approach for electronically managing Federal email records. The bulletin offers considerations that agencies should review if they choose to implement the Capstone approach to manage their email records. The Capstone approach, one of several available to agencies, supports the Presidential Memorandum on Managing Government Records and allows agencies to comply with the requirement in OMB/NARA M-12-18 Managing Government Records Directive to “manage both permanent and temporary email records in an accessible electronic format” by December 31, 2016.

NARA Bulletin 2013-03: Guidance for Agency Employees on the Management of Federal Records, Including Email Accounts, and the Protection of Federal Records from Unauthorized Removal reaffirms that agencies and agency employees must manage Federal records appropriately and protect them from unauthorized removal from agency custody. In addition, the bulletin clarifies records management responsibilities regarding the use of personal email accounts for official business and the use of more than one Federal email account. (NARA Bulletin 2013-03 replaces and updates NARA Bulletin 2008-02.)

Ferriero testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on the topic of Preventing Violations of Federal Transparency Laws. Ferriero clarified NARA’s policy on the use of private or unofficial email accounts to conduct Federal business. “The National Archives discourages the use of private email accounts to conduct Federal business, but understands that there are situations where such use does occur,” he said. “Accordingly, where a private email account must be used to conduct government business – because, for example, the government-provided email service is not available for technical reasons – the Federal records generated through these private accounts must be moved to the official recordkeeping system of the agency as soon as practicable, and then managed according to the Federal Records Act, the Freedom of Information Act, and other legal requirements and their implementing regulations.”