agencies did not have the ability to store electronic records for long periods. But he noted that "the solution to this problem is not to absolve all agencies of using electronic record-keeping systems because some agencies do not now have the capability to do so. Rather, it makes much more sense to require each agency to put forward its best records management strategy, taking into account its particular assets and deficiencies." He pointed out that "for many years, Congress has recognized the importance of maintaining certain copies of government records and has established safeguards to insure that records with sufficient administrative, legal, research or other value are not destroyed. It should come as no surprise that electronic records, which take less storage space than paper records, should be subject to the same safeguards. While Congress has given the archivist an enormous task in managing the federal government's records, the court is confident that the archivist will be able to efficiently dispose of electronic records within the structure provided by existing law."

The Archives apparently took a wrong turn in developing GRS 20 and Friedman told the agency to get back on the right road. But what Friedman's decision emphasizes is that e-mail and other electronic records are different in kind than their paper counterparts and will need to be treated differently. The computer revolution has always been sold on the concept that computers would make our lives easier by allowing us to work more efficiently. The task set out for the National Archives is to figure out how computer records can best be retained in both the short- and long-term, and how those records that can be destroyed can be responsibly identified.

Harry Hammitt is editor/publisher of Access Reports, a newsletter published in Lynchburg, Va., covering open government laws and information policy issues. E-mail: <>.

January Table of Contents

Harry Hammitt  |  Contributing Writer