Archives Clarifies Its E-Recordkeeping Plans

To update its operating regulations for the Digital Age, the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration has proposed new rules that would permit document requests via e-mail and allow the agency to respond with electronic documents as well as paper photocopies.

The new rules would also require the Archives to provide online access to operational records that are frequently requested by the public. The records and an index of them are posted at www. nara.gov/foia.

For the most part, the revisions proposed Aug. 23 would bring the Archives' rules in line with its current practices, said Mary Ronan, who oversees the Archives' compliance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Privacy Act. For example, the Archives has been informally accepting e-mail requests for documents since 1997, she said. And the requirement for posting frequently requested records exists in the 1996 Electronic Freedom of Information Act (EFOIA).

But as use of the Internet, e-mail and electronic documents increases, revisions are needed "for clarity and to reduce duplication," Archivist John Carlin wrote in a notice published Aug. 23 in the Federal Register.

The new rules would establish a special e-mail address - inquire@nara.gov - that the public could use to request documents. The public may also use the address to request documents under FOIA and to appeal denials of FOIA requests.

When the Archives agrees to provide copies of documents, the proposed rules say the agency can provide them in electronic form "in the format specified by the requester if the records already exist in that format, or are readily reproducible in the requested format."

The Archives normally charges fees to cover the cost of finding and providing copies of records. For electronic records, the agency proposes charging $16 per hour to cover the cost of programming, computer operations and electromagnetic media such as floppy disks and tapes.

For complicated records searches, the fee would increase to $33 per hour. For individuals affiliated with educational or scientific institutions or the news media, the first 100 pages - or the electronic equivalent of 100 printed pages - would be free.

The new regulations would increase the number of days the Archives has to respond to FOIA requests from 10 to 20. The longer response time is set by EFOIA, Ronan said. But the revisions would also establish a formal procedure for "expedited responses" in unusual cases, she said.

"We have had an informal procedure" for speeding up responses, she said. If someone notified the Archives that a relative needed immigration documents, the agency would respond promptly, she said. Under the new rules, NARA would be required to respond within 10 days to a request that a case be expedited.

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