January 18, 2022

New CRS Report: “Retaining and Preserving Federal Records in a Digital Environment: Background and Issues for Congress”

This report was published on July 26, 2013 and recently made publicly accessible by the Federation of American Scientists.


Retaining and Preserving Federal Records in a Digital Environment: Background and Issues for Congress (20 pages; PDF)


Wendy Ginsberg
Congressional Research Service
Analyst in American National Government


Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

From the Summary

All federal departments and agencies create federal records “in connection with the transaction of public business.” The Federal Records Act, as amended (44 U.S.C. Chapters 21, 29, 31, and 33), requires executive branch departments and agencies to collect, retain, and preserve federal records, which provide the Administration, Congress, and the public with a history of public policy execution and its results.

Increasing use of e-mail, social media, and other electronic media has prompted a proliferation of  record creation in the federal government. The variety of electronic platforms used to create  federal records, however, may complicate the technologies needed to capture and retain them. It is also unclear whether the devices and applications that agencies currently use to create and  retain records will be viable in perpetuity—making access to federal records over time  increasingly complicated, costly, and potentially impossible.

In recent years, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) reported records management deficiencies at federal agencies.  NARA, which has government-wide records management responsibilities, found 45% of agencies  were at high risk of mismanaging their records. Agencies’ inabilities to comply with federal  record keeping laws and responsibilities may make it difficult for NARA to predict future federal
archiving needs because officials may not anticipate the true volume of records, nor will they know the variety of platforms used to create those records.

The executive branch has taken steps to clarify records management responsibilities and  attempted to improve record keeping administration. In August 2012, for example, NARA and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) jointly released a directive providing agencies with a  framework for managing federal records, including both paper and electronic records.

Direct to Full Text Report (20 pages; PDF)

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.