The federal government has a problem keeping up with its own paperwork — that is nothing new. What might sound new to millions of Americans is that the nation is slowly learning to let its own history go due to a chronic lack of funds that is making it hard for several agencies to convert paper documents into digital records.
In order to deal with the growing number of records in need of storage, the National Archives allowed certain agencies to destroy records in 2017, a plan that was met with some resistance from legislators and immigration advocates.
Records officials then claimed that in order to lessen their workload, they would allow officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) tasked with recording sexual abuse and death of undocumented immigrants to destroy documents. While the agency ended up postponing the implementation of this plan, the New York Times reports that last month, the National Archives announced it would give ICE the green light to start destroying records from President Trump’s first year in office, some of which register civil rights violations and complaints from detainees of shoddy medical care.
As the National Archives struggles to house the existing billions of records in its possession, ICE isn’t the only agency being told it needs to trim down.
The Department of the Interior is deleting records on drinking water safety, endangered species, and offshore drilling, according to the New York Times — even after reportedly destroying papers from a case involving the agency’s mismanagement of Native American lands.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), for instance, released fewer than ten percent of its estimated 160 million paper records this year, and the Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, Keith Krach, was given the go-ahead to designate all documents as “temporary.”
While some believe that this issue should push Congress to act, especially due to the lack of employees required to manage the growing number of records sent to the National Archives, the government’s utter incompetence in dealing with its own records is as much of an American tradition as apple pie.
Of course, many will try to label this as yet another attempt from the Trump administration to delete records that do not do his presidency any favors, but the reality is that the National Archives has been struggling for years.
Expanding The Archives’ Responsibilities
In 2014, President Barack Obama signed the Presidential and Federal Records Act Amendments, giving the National Archives the responsibility to care for electronic government records.
As the archivist in charge, David Ferriero initiated the monumental task of transferring the historically important records of the Obama era into the National Archives, however, he learned that several key records were missing.
The administration had simply “lost” records it was supposed to keep. A shocking revelation to those who had paid close attention — it was the Obama administration itself that had imposed requirements regarding online records, adding that the National Archives alone could decide whether records should be stored or destroyed.
As the National Archives continues to receive a growing load of records from several agencies regularly, thanks in part to Obama’s rules, it is also tasked with figuring out what is worth keeping and what is not.
Those rules weren’t put in place by Trump, but by his predecessor, and the opportune loss (or destruction) of records didn’t start in 2016, but much earlier when Obama signed the records act into law.
At this point, documents that would seem important to some are being completely forgotten and tossed out, while others are being “lost.” Why should one person, or in this case one agency suffering from a lack of funding, be given this tremendous power?
If anything, the federal government has too much power to influence U.S. history. Suffering from a serious dereliction of duty, the nation’s federal government has deviated from its initial purpose by growing to a point that republicanism is no longer a possibility.