NARA decides to leave Federal web records to Internet Archive

The diligent bloggers at the Free Government Information tipped me off to another NARA topic that requires publicizing. FGI quotes a post at .govwatch, citing a NARA memo (NWM 13.2008) which states, in part:

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) preserved a one-time snapshot of agency public web sites as they existed on or before January 20, 2001, as an archival record in the National Archives of the United States. NARA also conducted a harvest (i.e., capture) of Federal Agency public web sites in 2004 and of Congressional web sites in 2006. See http://www.archives.gov/records-mgmt/policy/web-harvest-snapshot.html.

After considering our other records management program priorities for FY 2008, availability of harvested web content at other “archiving” sites (e.g., www.archive.org), and the resources required for conducting and preserving a government-wide web snapshot, NARA has determined that we will not conduct a web harvest or snapshot at the end of the current Administration.

This seems, at the very least, a public relations error. Saying that NARA doesn’t have to capture records because the Internet Archive is doing it is a flimsy excuse. Rather, as John Wonderlich pointed out on the Sunlight Foundation blog:

The fact that digital preservation is done by others outside NARA isn’t an excuse for NARA to abdicate their responsibility, but an argument that they should be capable of fulfilling it.

Perhaps one of our knowledgeable NARA readers can clarify a few points. If my memory serves me correctly, Federal agencies are required to schedule their web records along with all other Federal records. Therefore NARA might consider that the web harvests are not the “official” records of government web sites, but rather are captured as supplementary records. I think it is likely that NARA might also believe (or know) that most agencies, even if they have correctly scheduled their web records (which is a big if) might not actually be effectively capturing them or transferring them to NARA custody in accordance with their schedules. Anyone want to place bets on that? Therefore these web harvests may, in some cases, be the only record NARA ever receives of some agency websites for this time period.

Clearly, in the past NARA decided it was worth the resources to capture these records. What is different now? What are the “other records management program priorities for FY 2008” that are more important? I don’t doubt there are other many important priorities, but this harvest was planned and budgeted for long ago, I’m sure. What has changed now? I think we deserve a more complete explanation, and the excuse that the Internet Archive is doing it is not good enough. They are not an authoritative source for reliable, authentic Federal records. What’s the real story here?

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