WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, delivered opening remarks at a hearing titled “Correcting the Public Record: Reforming Federal and Presidential Records Management.” In his statement, Portman highlighted the importance of transparency and accountability in the federal government and the need to reform the Presidential Records Act and Federal Records Act to account for technological advancements and changes since Congress last amended those laws in 2014.
A transcript of his opening statement can be found below and a video can be found here.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thanks to our witnesses for being here. Transparency in government is obviously a pillar of our democracy and something we should all ensure continues into the digital age because it’s harder and harder in so many respects as we’ll talk about today. It’s an area I’ve worked on a lot. I’ve sponsored the DATA Act, the Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act, the Open Courts Act, the Regulatory Accountability Act, and a lot of others.
“In fact, when I was Director of the Office of Management and Budget, I put all earmarks online, which had an interesting effect in terms of transparency. But in order to have that transparency and accountability, we obviously need a record of what government is doing day in and day out, what government is doing right, what government is doing wrong. That way, citizens can learn and hold their government and officials accountable. Having a fulsome record of government activity is also important to the future. It’s important to historians, it’s important to media. It’s important to citizens to have that. Think tanks can play an important role only if they have access to information as an example.
“So it’s good we’re having a hearing today looking at the Presidential Records Act and the Federal Records Act. It’s a bipartisan issue, by the way. I can see from the prepared comments that some of our witnesses will reference our previous President’s controversies, but will note, as I do, that administrations of both parties have had records-related issues, and lack of clarity has caused some of that.
“As a member of this Committee back in 2014, I worked on the 2014 Amendments to the Presidential Records Act and Federal Records Act. Among other things, we tried to streamline the process for making presidential records available to the public after they go to the National Archives. We prohibited the use of non-official electronic messaging accounts by covered workers unless they copy or forward communications to official accounts, clarified the definition of government records so that it covers them regardless of what format they’re in, and provided an enforcement scheme for violations.
“So just in 2014, we went through this and made a number of amendments, but the world has actually changed quite a bit since 2014. Records have become much more digitized. There are now apps that make messages disappear. There’s also technology that automatically categorizes documents. So I agree that we as a Committee should look into these and other changes and see how the law might need to be updated to account for changes since 2014.
“And I’m glad these three witnesses are with us today to help us do just that. I see they’ve all spent time dealing with records-related issues, so I want to thank them in advance for testifying, and I look forward to hearing what they have to say and engaging in a good dialogue about these issues. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”