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Grad Borisut 6-16-99
In the 210-year history of the Senate, records management has become an increasingly challenging process as the information environment grows ever more complex. Senate records of the First Congress (1789-1791), for example, occupy four and two-thirds feet of shelf space at the Center for Legislative Archives. By contrast, the Senate today transfers to the Center approximately two thousand shelf feet per Congress. The records of the First Congress are paper files, easy to access and preserve. Contemporary records, however, include paper, microfilm, audio and video recordings, and computer disks and tapes. For these, preservation and accessibility over time is costly and must be carefully planned.
This volume offers guidelines and procedures to facilitate the management of historically valuable committee records. Committee staff are encouraged to review the volume as needed and to share in the task of preserving this treasured national resource for the "institutional memory" of the Senatethe records of the Senate's committees.
SIGNIFICANCE OF COMMITTEE RECORDS
textual and electronic material. It enriches a committee's overall information resources and influences operating efficiency by facilitating legislative history research and investigative analyses. In fact, given the increasing volume of records and the transitory nature of electronic documentation, astute records management is essential to a well-run office.
Congressional committees have been described as the nerve ends of Congress, the gatherers of information, the sifters of alternatives, and the refiners of legislation. As such, they create and collect a wealth of documentation pertaining to the legislative process and all aspects of political, economic, and social life. They compile records that document the effectiveness of agency programs and detail the extent to which these programs carry out the intent of enacted laws. When they investigate an issue, they accumulate an array of in-depth information and develop relevant legislative proposals. They also assemble and evaluate unique information pertaining to the qualifications of presidential nominees. As Woodrow Wilson once stated, "Congress in its committee rooms is Congress at work."
This body of information is an incomparable national resource, not only of the Senate's history and role in formulating legislation, but also of the general history of Congress and the American people. Committee records are an essential component of the Senate's institutional "memory." Properly arranged and preserved, they contain evidence of each committee's organization and functions, furnish a complete legislative history of individual bills and laws, and serve as a rich source of reference material for topics within a committee's jurisdiction.2
Committee staff should review basic records management policy and procedures at the beginning of each Congress to avoid ending up with an incomplete record at the end of the Congress. Early identification of permanently valuable files is important so that they may be filed separately from transitory material. In the case of electronic records, all staff bear responsibility for preserving historically valuable information. Guidelines for identifying valuable files are provided in the following chapters.
Efficient management of committee records consists of: • Establishing a records management policy
throughout all committee and subcommittee offices (majority, minority, and non-designated) Reminding staff that committee-related records belong to the Senate (Standing Rule XI.2 and 44U.S.C. $2118) Creating well-defined textual and electronic files that are arranged in efficient and logical filing se
quences and are free of unneeded information • Removing transitory records in a timely and sys
tematic fashion • Requiring staff periodically to review their elec
tronic files and move them into appropriate "folders" or subdirectories before copying them to the archival transfer medium Preserving all permanently valuable textual and electronic records including e-mail and special media (audio and video recordings, photographs) by forwarding the materials to the Archives on a regular basis Authorizing committee members or staff (if appropriate), who so wish to make copies of their files to take with them when they leave the committee; but stress that the "original" records must remain with the committee, and that access to material should follow S. Res. 474, 96th Congress
THE IMPORTANCE OF RECORDS
Committee records are the property of the Senate under Senate Rule XI.2 and 44 U.S.C. $2118. Committee members and staff will want to establish regulations and procedures that ensure the preservation of these historically valuable materials. To achieve this goal, each committee and subcommittee office should adopt sound records management practices and require conscientious implementation on the part of all staff.
Effective records management includes the creation of well-defined textual and electronic files, timely and systematic removal of transitory records, and the identification and preservation of permanently valuable
Kravitz, Walter, "The U.S. Committee System,” The Parliamentarian, July 1979, Vol. LX, no. 3, p. 123.
2 Senate Report No. 1042, 96th Congress (1980), Relating to Public Access to Senate Records at the National Archives, reproduced as Exhibit X-1.