October 16, 2021

NARA OIG Special Report: “NARA’s Plans to Make Electronic Records Archives-Congressional Instance Records Available to the Public”

From the NARA Inspector General:

The purpose of this Special Report is to inform you [David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States] of the results of our review of the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) actions to make electronic records in the Electronic Records Archives-Congressional Records Instance (ERA-CRI) available to the public. We primarily focused on determining if NARA is adequately planning for the public release of ERA-CRI records based on relevant access rules.

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NARA’s Center for Legislative Archives (Center) serves as the repository for the official records of the United States (US) House of Representatives (House) and the US Senate, which remain in the permanent legal custody of the House and Senate, respectively. House and Senate records are exempt from the Federal Records Act and, reflecting their status as records of independent institutions in a separate branch of government, are governed solely by House and Senate rules, respectively. The Center also holds records of legislative branch agencies and commissions such as the 9/11 Commission, Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, Congressional Budget Office, Government Accountability Office, and the Government Publishing Office.

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The Center also operates the ERA-CRI, which stores over 160 terabytes1 of data. The ERA-CRI is a preservation system that contains the electronic records of congressional committees, held by, but not in the legal custody of NARA. The system holds Unclassified and some Sensitive records due to the nature of the records discussed in committee, which can include Personally Identifiable Information. The ERA-CRI also includes congressional web harvest data. The

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The Center also operates the ERA-CRI, which stores over 160 terabytes1 of data. The ERA-CRI is a preservation system that contains the electronic records of congressional committees, held by, but not in the legal custody of NARA. The system holds Unclassified and some Sensitive records due to the nature of the records discussed in committee, which can include Personally Identifiable Information. The ERA-CRI also includes congressional web harvest data. The Center preserves the content and appearance of congressional websites by capturing snapshots of websites once at the end of each two-year Congress. These web harvests produce a public reference copy of the websites for the purpose of continual availability to the public, and also produce a record copy to be retained in NARA’s holdings. Access to the ERA-CRI is restricted to internal authorized NARA staff.

At the conclusion of each Congress, the Center typically receives significant increases in electronic records transfers. That trend continued with the conclusion of the 114th Congress on January 3, 2017, albeit at a slightly lower pace than in the past. The Center’s electronic holdings grew approximately 44 percent from 2016-2017. At the end of the 113th Congress, the volume growth of electronic holdings was 98 percent, while the end of the 112th Congress showed an increase of 70 percent.

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With the increase in the volume of electronic records from the last few Congresses, and an increase going forward in the number of records in ERA-CRI that will cross the 20 and 30 year thresholds under the relevant access rules, the Center will need to start planning on how it will fulfill NARA’s goal of making access happen as it relates to electronic congressional records. The planning may include the need for additional resources, as well as updating the roles and responsibilities of current staff members, along with updating policies and procedures. It will also include incorporating the ERA-CRI into the upgraded ERA 2.0 system. We will continue to monitor NARA’s work related to the public release of records in the ERA-CRI.

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.

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