Today, 26 November 2018, organizations and individuals committed to federal government openness and accountability, submitted comments urging the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to reconsider the proposed Department of Interior records retention schedule (DAA-0048-2015-0003) and NARA’s Appraisal thereof.
Points made in the letter include:
• DAA-0048-2015-0003 consolidates a large number of existing record schedules into a single document. We understand that this change is part of larger effort, initiated and led by NARA, to move agencies to scheduling their records in “big buckets,” or large aggregation, schedules. The implementation of the ‘big bucket’ process in this instance is spelled out by the Department of Interior in its Request (DAA-0048-2015-0003): “Methodology: … This change to a departmental schedule, from individual bureau schedules, moves disposition authority for Record Groups 022 (FWS), 049 (BLM), 057 (USGS), 075 (BIA), 079 (NPS), 115 (BOR), 471 (OSMRE), 473 (BSEE), and 589 (BOEMRE) to 048.” (Emphasis added)This change takes authority to make records destruction requests out of the hands of these bureaus/offices — the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Geological Survey, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, and Bureau of Indian Affairs — and puts that authority solely in the office of the Secretary of Interior (record group 048). It is of great concern that this authority would be removed from the bureaus where the subject area specialists (including records specialists) reside and placed in the Office of a political appointee.
• We are deeply concerned by the frequent statement in NARA’s Appraisal Memo that the records under review “do not document significant actions of federal officials.” As NARA is aware, the legal definition of Records (44 U.S.C. Chapter 33 § 3301) is
RECORDS DEFINED. —(1) IN GENERAL.—As used in this chapter, the term “records”— (A) includes all recorded information, regardless of form or characteristics, made or received by a Federal agency under Federal law or in connection with the transaction of public business and preserved or appropriate for preservation by that agency or its legitimate successor as evidence of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the United States Government or because of the informational value of data in them.
While the “actions of federal officials” are part of the “transaction of public business and preserved or appropriate for preservation by that agency or its legitimate successor as evidence of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the United States Government,” they certainly do not constitute the entirety of activities of the United States Government.
• We are especially troubled by the appraisers’ use of the phrases “of interest” and “of value” to “NARA researchers.” Indeed, in relation to Indian Trust fiduciary accounting (IFTA) records that had been previously authorized for permanent retention during the Cobell, et al. v. Salazar, et al., litigation (1996-2009), NARA states that “Now that this litigation has been settled, DOI and NARA are in agreement that, while IFTA records possess long-term legal value, they are not of interest to NARA researchers.”(Emphasis added) It certainly seems that large numbers of researchers, including—but not limited to–legal, scientific, financial, environmental, are excluded from NARA’s sense of its responsibility. This limitation is nowhere in the basic laws and authorities of NARA.
• In the same discussion of the IFTA records, NARA made an additional statement that causes us concern: In creating the DRS, the Department and bureau representatives have made a good faith effort to reschedule series (or portions of series) as temporary, where the records were found to lack continuing value as archival records. …During the appraisal, bureaus also notified NARA of series discovered to be obsolete and these have been removed from the crosswalk. (Emphasis added)
• In light of all the serious concerns noted above – and the assessments made in the referenced document by outside experts on the bureaus and the activities conducted by them– we request that the Department of Interior be directed to submit a new Request with “obsolete” series restored and that a new appraisal be undertaken by NARA.
• Finally, and somewhat separately, we strongly urge NARA to undertake a vigorous and public outreach to the wide variety of stakeholders in the preservation of the records of “the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the United States Government or because of the informational value of data in them.” This will entail and necessitate going well beyond the agencies and “NARA researchers.” The process of identifying what records will be preserved and for what lengths of time (and in what formats) is excessively opaque and must be made apparent, all related documents must be made publicly available without a FOIA request, and the public must be given adequate time to process the information and to comment.