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Electronic Message Preservation Act

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Location: Washington, DC


ELECTRONIC MESSAGE PRESERVATION ACT -- (House of Representatives - July 09, 2008)

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Mr. DAVIS of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, H.R. 5811, the Electronic Message Preservation Act would require the preservation of certain electronic records by Federal agencies and certification in reports by the National Archives relating to Presidential records.

Why are we taking up this bill? We have been out of session for more than a week. We have been getting ready for a month-long recess, and this is the best they can offer to discuss on the House floor? This is the major bill of the week? Not the housing crisis, not gasoline prices, not retirement security for baby boomers, we are here today to talk about preservation of electronic records in Federal agencies.

This is the best they can come up with?

And though the answer to that is appropriately ``yes,'' this bill doesn't take the right approach. As I said many times, secure information is the lifeblood of effective government. And more often than not, in today's society, information takes the form of electronic transmissions and e-mails.

I have personally spent years focusing on government-wide information management and policy and have consistently encouraged the Federal Government to continue to embrace digital government, expand e-government initiatives and find more ways to leverage information technology.

With more and more of the government's business conducted electronically, we need to make sure our records are protected and preserved. Effective government is essential, and an effective government depends not only on secure information but on an accurate record.

The majority substitute amendment at markup addressed certain technical definitional concerns that we raised. It clarified that the legislation would apply to electronic messages rather than electronic communications and provided a workable definition of ``electronic messages.'' Similarly, based on comments from the National Archives that the term ``electronic records management applications'' may limit agencies' abilities to adopt changing technologies, the amendment clarified that agencies and the White House should rely on broadly defined electronic records management systems to manage records.

At that time, I urged the chairman to continue to refine this bill to make sure that we got it right on issues like managing the cost of preserving unknown, but presumably vast, electronic databases, how to include emerging media in a system, and the functional parameters of any requirement that voluminous and varied data be ``searchable.'' Those issues have not been addressed in any meaningful way in the markup.

In addition, several issues raised by the Archives and the White House remain unresolved as well. For example, Archives believes that the annual certification requirement is unprecedented and would be a significant departure from accepted and long-standing practice. Also, there are several clarifications of terms and definitions asked for by the Archives which are not addressed in the bill we're taking up today.

In addition, among other things, the White House views the bill as overturning the historical distinction in law between agency records and Presidential records, and the Statement of Administration Policy issued yesterday reiterates the White House's veto threat.

Now, we have to remember the White House in this case is protecting the ``institution,'' not the Bush administration. This bill doesn't affect the current administration. And our interests here are institutional as well. But if we want to legislate, we should do it appropriately and thoughtfully, not in some needless rush to somehow punish an administration that won't even be affected by this bill.

I'm not certain that this bill is the appropriate legislation, but I do believe legislation is necessary in this area. And I want to work with Chairman Waxman and the White House and the Archives on a bill that will give appropriate guidelines to agencies and the White House on preserving electronic records.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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