Agency Records May Rot on Disks, Archivist Says

A current law that gives federal agencies 30 years to turn over all the records that must be permanently retained by the National Archives is a recipe for lost documents and a spotty historical record, the government's chief archivist told lawmakers Tuesday.

That 30-year window may have been appropriate in a paper era when the only danger to documents came from floods and fires. But in an electronic age, any method of record storage is likely to be obsolete by the time the National Archives gets hold of the records stored on it, Archivist David Ferriero told members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

"So you're saying we're not that good at reading DOS 3.3 now," Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., joked.

Ferreiro said only about half a dozen agencies now voluntarily turn over their records early. He recommended a president's time in office, either a single or a double term, as a reasonable lag time for records to be turned over.

White House records must already be turned over at the end of a presidential term. Archives employees, in fact, are often in the White House gathering the former Administration's records during a new president's inauguration.

Only a small portion of agency records are required to be permanently preserved.