E-Sign Rules Open for Comment

WASHINGTON (08/08/2000) - The U.S. Office of Management and Budget is looking for comments on draft guidance that will help agencies understand and use the new electronic signature legislation passed by Congress in June.

In a memo sent to agency chief information officers last week, OMB asked for comments by Aug. 11 on the draft guidelines developed for the Electronic Signatures in National and Global Commerce Act. E-Sign provides a legal basis for use of technology to sign contracts and perform other electronic legal transactions.

The act primarily is focused on the private sector because it deals with business-to-business and business-to-consumer transactions. Electronic transactions within government are already covered by the Government Paperwork Elimination Act.

However, under E-Sign, agencies will have to update regulations to indicate that private parties must retain records electronically. Also, several agencies - including the Commerce, Treasury and Justice departments - deal with transactions governed by E-Sign. These agencies already have worked with OMB to develop the draft guidance.

OMB wants to issue the guidance before the law takes effect Oct. 1, 2000; related government requirements, such as the records-retention regulations, kick in during 2001.

"Because these effective dates are very near at hand, agencies must begin now to take steps necessary to implement the law," OMB director Jacob Lew wrote in the draft guidelines. "Failure to immediately update requirements could result in significant consequences for an agency; for example, if an agency has a record-retention requirement but fails to update this requirement, it may hinder the ability of auditors and [inspector generals] to access important documents."

The guidance includes three parts:

* General overview and explanation of how E-Sign relates to federal agencies.

* Suggested steps for agencies' implementation of E-Sign.

* Ensuring agency compliance with the statutory requirements of E-Sign.

OMB is also working with the Regulatory Working Group, the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency, and the CFO and the Procurement Executive Councils to hone the draft before issuing final guidelines.

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