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Presidential Records in an Era of Social Networking: Updating the Presidential Records Act

It’s not surprising that the Obama administration is rather busy this week sharing information and basking in the aftermath of this weekend’s news. And while others may have been looking forward to the numerous press conferences addressing these issues, we at CMSWire were anticipating the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s hearing about the administration's policy for preserving tweets and other messages sent using social networks.

Officially, Unofficially Updating the Presidential Records Act

Today, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, oversaw a hearing that aimed to update the Presidential Records Act to allow for presidential communications in an era of texting, instant messaging and social networking.

The White House's official policy states that all messages between the president and his staffers and third parties on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook must be preserved under the Presidential Records Act. That includes all tweets as well as direct messages and replies sent to official accounts. However the act, passed in 1978, is not sufficient to account for the many “unnoffocial” accounts still used for official communications, such as the personal accounts of some staff members.

Challenges, Changes for Administration Records Management

Today’s hearing included testimonies from the White House Chief Information Officer, Brook Colangelo, and the David Ferriero, the archivist of the United States, at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Both acknowledged that they were not comfortable with the current system and pushed for changes that would allow the administration to capture valuable materials created by the Federal government, whether in print or online through official of unofficial channels.

There is some concern, of course, about how employees could "circumvent" federal law on presidential recordkeeping by using devices such as the iPad or iPhone to send official email messages from private accounts. At present, employees are not restricted as to the personal items they could bring into the White House, but are supposed to forward personal emails sent for business communications to their work accounts.

In April, President Obama complained about the outdated technology present in the White House. Combined with outdated legislation, it’s unlikely that a new records management system is due anytime soon. Like many companies, the White House struggles to keep both its technologies and policies relevant.

 
 
 
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