Losing the History of Government

Much in the media and the blogosphere in the last week about the use of private email by the Republican vice-presidential candidate for official communications.

But the trend is away from the preservation of even official websites for future scholars. The NYT reports: In Digital Age, Federal Files Blip Into Oblivion

Countless federal records are being lost to posterity because federal employees, grappling with a staggering growth in electronic records, do not regularly preserve the documents they create on government computers, send by e-mail and post on the Web.

Federal agencies have rushed to embrace the Internet and new information technology, but their record-keeping efforts lag far behind. Moreover, federal investigators have found widespread violations of federal record-keeping requirements.

“We expect to see the wholesale disappearance of materials on federal agency Web sites,” said Mary Alice Baish, the Washington representative of the American Association of Law Libraries, whose members are heavy users of government records. “When new officials take office, they have new programs and policies, and they want to make a fresh start.”

The House has H.R.5811 An Act to amend title 44, United States Code, to require preservation of certain electronic records by Federal agencies, to require a certification and reports relating to Presidential records, and for other purposes. There is a threat to veto the Bill, and a strong OMB statement that the sky will fall if it passes

It’s not just the shredders that are wheeled in on a change of administration. Will the W keys go missing again? ((See page 12 of the GAO Report))


  1. Significant decision from District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics v. Cheney law suit, holding that the defendant must preserve a wide range of the records from his time as vice president.

    The order is here and the memorandum here.