Peters and Cornyn Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Modernize Federal Records Laws

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced bipartisan legislation to modernize and strengthen the laws requiring the maintenance and preservation of government records. The bipartisan Strengthening Oversight of Federal Records Act would reform the Federal Records Act (FRA) to strengthen requirements for preserving records and create greater accountability for mismanagement of federal agency records. The bill also makes critical updates to account for commonly used electronic communications, including disappearing messaging apps, and takes steps to ensure that federal agencies are utilizing emerging technology to manage their records more efficiently. The introduction of this legislation follows a recent hearing Peters convened to examine federal agencies’ compliance with federal recordkeeping and disclosure laws. 

“Federal agencies must maintain adequate records so that the American public can hold officials accountable, access critical benefits and services, and have a clear picture of how the government is spending taxpayer dollars ,” said Senator Peters. “We must also update the law to keep pace with rapidly changing technology and ensure that we are not sacrificing transparency as we embrace new forms of communication. My bill will modernize our records laws and make our government more transparent, efficient, and accountable.”

“American taxpayers deserve a full accounting of federal records, including across all forms of digital communication,” said Senator Cornyn. “This legislation would help make sure technological advancements do not hamstring the government’s ability to provide greater accountability and transparency for federal records.”        

The bipartisan Strengthening Oversight of Federal Records Act would update the FRA to ensure that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is better equipped to handle the rapid proliferation of electronic records and hold those who mismanage government records accountable. To create greater transparency, the bill requires NARA to refer repeated violations of records laws to the Department of Justice and report these violations to Congress. The bill also requires agencies to take additional steps to increase employee compliance with recordkeeping policies. In order to keep up with a more digital world, the bill would modernize the FRA by requiring that electronic messaging accounts, such as text message applications, are backed up, expanding NARA’s successful Capstone program to include all types of electronic records, and creating an advisory committee to explore the use of emerging technologies to streamline records processing and digitization.  

Below are statements in support of the senators’ legislation: 

“Government records are ultimately the property of the American people and agencies are responsible for maintaining the emails, texts, and documents they create. The Strengthening Oversight of Federal Records Act would update and bolster our federal recordkeeping laws to account for changes in technology, and make it easier for organizations like ours to ensure that records are created and preserved during any administration. We are thrilled Senators from both parties have come together to support measures that let the public know what the government is up to and provide a safeguard to our history,” said Debra Perlin, Policy Director at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

“The Strengthening Oversight of Federal Records Act of 2024 is an important step towards reform of the federal records management process. In addition to updates that recognize evolving forms of electronic communication, this bill will strengthen enforcement mechanisms to hold agencies accountable to their records-management obligations. Records reflecting government decision-making must be preserved for posterity and are vital to ensuring that present and future generations of Americans can hold those in power to account,” said Brent Gardner, Chief Government Affairs Officer, Americans for Prosperity.

“Establishing a full and truthful chronicling of our history is a prerequisite to holding our government accountable. The Strengthening Oversight of Federal Records Act represents a critical step in ensuring government records are preserved effectively and efficiently – and that they are made practically accessible to the public. By modernizing how the federal government preserves records, the Act is an important contribution to the long-term health of our democracy,” said Grant Tudor, Policy Advocate, Protect Democracy.

“The Strengthening Oversight of Federal Records Act of 2024 is an important update to and expansion of the Federal Records Act. Through its careful delineation of the meaning of electronic messaging and its specification that the term includes social media and digital applications, it closes the ambiguities through which important executive agency communications have escaped preservation and public availability. The clear delineation of what positions are, at a minimum, covered by the mandates of records preservation in executive agencies and the specification of what steps must, at a minimum, be taken to preserve the electronic messages of individuals in those position, gives both NARA and the public a way to ensure accountability. As importantly, SOFRA requires proactive disclosure of records retention schedules for public inspection in an accessible electronic database on NARA’s website and requires inclusion of the relevant crosswalk and appraisal memo. For those attempting to challenge agency records destruction plans this is critical information that has been difficult to obtain in an accessible, usable, and understandable format,” said Patrice McDermott, Director, Government Information Watch.

“ARL supports the Strengthening Oversight of Federal Records Act because it will enhance the preservation of government information, and the public’s understanding of federal records management,” said Katherine Klosek, Director of Information Policy, and Federal Relations, Association of Research Libraries.