May 6, 2019

Agencies have taken inconsistent approaches on publicly disclosing their Federal Records Act (FRA) policies, with some putting them on their websites, and others shielding them from the public. CREW sent a letter asking the Archivist of the United States to issue guidance requiring agencies to make their FRA policies public, which would go a long way to encourage FRA compliance and promote public trust that federal agencies are keeping records as required by law.

The FRA requires agencies to “make and preserve records containing adequate and proper documentation of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures and essential transactions of the agency and designed to furnish the information necessary to protect the legal and financial rights of the Government and of persons directly affected by the agency’s activities.”  Because these requirements are intended to promote government transparency and protect individuals affected by agency actions , the public has a major stake in ensuring that agencies have legally-compliant records management policies. But agencies do not consistently disclose their records policies to the public, which frustrates the purposes of the FRA.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently exhibited systematic recordkeeping failures relating to migrant family separations that have had catastrophic results, leading to some families being permanently separated. CREW requested DHS’ recordkeeping policy to better understand where it fell apart. The agency’s policy is not posted on the DHS website, and after CREW requested it, DHS said CREW would need to file a Freedom of Information Act request. CREW already had submitted such a request, and to this day, DHS has not responded. This episode shows why the Archivist must step in to promote transparency regarding agency recordkeeping policies.

CREW respectfully requests that the Archivist issue clear guidance requiring all agencies to proactively make available to the public any official FRA policies, procedures, or directives.

Read the letter here.