Slate Magazine’s Fred Kaplan opined Thursday on the intense need to fix federal records management practices.
After applauding the recent pro-transparency directives from the Obama administration, Kaplan wrote, “Here’s an idea for a good second step: Force the federal agencies to file and maintain all the records they’re creating now, so that in the future when citizens file [Freedom of Information Act] requests to declassify documents, they won’t receive a form letter that reads, "Sorry, no such documents exist."
Generally, the Federal Records Act and the Presidential Records Act require preservation of most government records, but it has not always been clear those laws are followed.
Kaplan went on to describe problems at the National Archives and Records Administration revealed in a recent report: The Archives is struggling with the handling of electronic documents as well as the dearth of records custodians available in federal agencies to help see that records are maintained properly.
Historians and others trying to piece together the decisions to go to war against Iraq and Afghanistan may be the most harmed be those shortcomings, Kaplan concluded. Unlike in the case of Vietnam, the records simply may not be there.