Archivist must consider records policy void pending appeal
WASHINGTON, D.C.–The Archivist of the United States has been “flagrantly” violating an October 1997 court order declaring “null and void” a National Archives and Records Administration regulation that authorized government agencies to delete computerized records, a federal judge in Washington, D.C. ruled in early April.
Despite the October ruling, the archivist had issued a bulletin and published two notices in the Federal Register stating that electronic records could be deleted under the regulation, known as GRS 20.
Federal District Judge Paul Friedman ordered the archivist to inform federal agencies that the regulation remains null and void pending the outcome of an appeal filed by the government.
The court also enjoined the archivist from issuing any statements indicating that GRS 20 authorizes the disposal of electronic records.
Issued in mid-August 1995, GRS 20 permitted federal agencies to erase word processing files recorded on electronic media and e-mail messages after they have been copied to paper, microform or an electronic recordkeeping system, “when no longer needed for updating or revision.”
In late December 1996, Public Citizen, a national nonprofit organization that conducts research and educational programs on government regulatory and information practices, joined by historians, journalists and researchers, filed suit in federal District Court in Washington, D.C. The suit alleged that the archivist “improperly ignored the unique value of electronic records” by granting federal agencies blanket authority to delete files stored in electronic form.
In October 1997, the court held that the archivist exceeded his authority by permitting disposal of records based on the technology used to create the record, rather than the value of the record as preserved electronically. (Public Citizen v. Carlin; Plaintiff’s Counsel: Michael Tankersley, Washington, D.C.)