An article in the Washington Post titled “The IRS isn’t the only agency with an e-mail problem ” is a bright spot in this missing e-mails debate. This article written by Melanie Sloan and Anne Weismann indicates that there is a real scandal which is the poor recordkeeping practices of the federal government overall particularly for electronic records such as e-mails.
As a long time federal employee, now retired, who in my early career handled the process of ‘boxing up’ the office’s paper records for transfer to Archives for storage. In those days the recordkeeping rules were clear. We knew what we had to keep and for how long. Paper recordkeeping was taken very seriously.
Now, in this electronic environment, many federal employees don’t get letters. They get e-mails. Instead of phone calls, they get e-mails, Multiple e-mails on a daily basis, even on the weekends when they are not in the office. Multiple e-mails can include entire conversations and have documents attached. Documents can be kept fairly easily until an individuals assigned space on a network or hard drive, or external storage device… runs out, of course.
The question arises regularly though; should all e-mails in a particular conversation be kept. If not all, which ones? Which conversations are important? The individual is left on his or her own to handle this decision.
Electronic records management is pretty lousy in the federal government. There are very few or no individuals in federal agencies whose sole responsibility is to train and advise and monitor staff recordkeeping on a daily basis. Who has the money for such people? Not in this tight budget environment. Recordkeeping responsibilities can seem frivolous to some. This has to change.
By the way, here’s the link to the article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-irs-isnt-the-only-agency-with-an-e-mail-problem/2014/06/27/35b2767e-fe1c-11e3-b1f4-8e77c632c07b_story.html
Now that the e-mail problem can be recognized as systemic, who will fix it?