President Obama’s New Email Recordkeeping Plan

Do you work in a Federal Government agency? Did you know that by the end of 2016, all of your email and document files must be managed and archived electronically? Fortunately, the Obama Administration is trying to help.

On October 27, 2015, the Obama Administration released its third “National Action Plan” for open government. The plan includes several initiatives with the intent to increase transparency and efficiency, and to provide citizens with unprecedented access to government information.

One of the major thrusts of this new plan is to support and expand upon the existing Managing Government Records Directive by improving the management and archiving of government records, as well as modernizing the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Integral to these efforts are requirements imposed on heads of government agencies to modernize and manage all email in electronic form to better facilitate the archiving and access for FOIA requests.


On November 28, 2011, President Obama signed the Presidential Memorandum – Managing Government Records. His memorandum marked the beginning of an Executive Branch-wide effort to modernize government records management policies and practices, and to develop a framework for the management of electronic Government records, particularly with respect to managing electronic records, including email and social media.

Following the President’s plan, in 2012 the Office of Management and Budget and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) sent out an additional memorandum detailing the specifics of the plan, and its two main goals:

  • To require electronic recordkeeping within all government agencies which would ensure transparency, efficiency, and accountability
  • To demonstrate compliance with Federal records management statutes and regulations

With regard to email records, the memorandum required that, “By 2016, Federal agencies will manage both permanent and temporary email records in an accessible electronic format – By December 31, 2016, Federal agencies must manage all email records in an electronic format. Email records must be retained in an appropriate electronic system that supports records management and litigation requirements (which may include preservation-in-place models), including the capability to identify, retrieve, and retain the records for as long as they are needed. Beginning one year after issuance of this Directive, each agency must report annually to OMB and NARA the status of its progress toward this goal.”

NARA has since issued several bulletins to inform Agency heads of an approach to electronic records management, that they have entitled “Capstone”. These bulletins serve as a guide to agencies as they prepare for archiving electronic communication data before the 2016 deadline. According to the memorandum, “The Capstone approach simplifies electronic management of email records for agencies and may provide the following advantages:

  1. Cuts down reliance on print-and-file, click-and-file, drag and drop, or other user-dependent policies;
  2. Optimizes access to records responsive to discovery or FOIA requests;
  3. Preserves permanent email records for eventual transfer to NARA;
  4. Provides a practical approach to managing legacy email accounts;
  5. Eases the burden of email management on the end-user;
  6. Represents a simplified approach to the disposition of temporary and permanent email records;
  7. Reduces the risk of unauthorized destruction of email records; and
  8. Leverages technologies that exist at many agencies for other purposes – e.g., email archives/e-vaults used for e-discovery, including in cloud-based platforms.”

The New Open Government Action Plan

Now, here we are, almost one year until the target date for government agencies to complete full implementation of all these requirements. To support and strengthen these ongoing efforts to modernize and archive government agency emails and electronic communication data, the Obama administration plans to reconstitute as the “front door” to the government, while also tightening agency email recordkeeping, and streamlining responses to Freedom of Information Act requests.

The main thrust of the site effort is to increase accessibility of government information online. The site has been recently re-launched to be more efficient and adaptive for citizens to use, and will be implementing additional user-centered enhancements.

Electronic Email Management & Archiving

To further assist government agencies in the management and archiving all of their email in electronic form by the end of 2016, this new plan calls for increased transparency, reports on the progress of email management, and improvements on access to the archived emails at the National Archive. No specific timeline is given for these efforts, but one can assume that they coincide with the December 2016 target date.

Here is an excerpt from the the “National Action Plan” with regard to government email management and archiving:

Increase Transparency in Managing Email – The National Archives and Records Administration will release a public dataset of positions of government officials whose email will come to the National Archives for permanent preservation under the Capstone approach. This dataset will increase transparency and accountability in the recordkeeping process, while facilitating public participation in the ongoing dialogue over records that document key actions, policies, and decisions of the Federal government.

Report on Agency Progress in Managing Email – The National Archives will also introduce targeted questions regarding email management to agencies through new and existing reporting mechanisms, and will report publicly on agencies’ progress, allowing stakeholders to track progress on agencies’ email management efforts.

Improve the Records Control Schedule Repository – The National Archives currently posts information about recordkeeping time frames in a records control schedule repository. The Archives will seek feedback from civil society to improve access to the data contained within this repository.


Uncoincidentally, 2016 marks the 50th Anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). With this new action plan, the Obama administration aims to, “…improve the implementation of FOIA to increase efficiency and effectiveness for Federal government employees charged with carrying out the law and for customers who use the law to access information about government activities.” In addition, that plan will expand services offered on, will post FOIA-released records online, will improve the site, could increase the understanding of FOIA, and proactively releases nonprofit tax filings.

Additional Goals

There are several additional goals put forward in the plan that do not apply to the scope of this article. The full text of the Third Open Government National Action Plan for the United States of America can be found here.

How Can GWAVA Help?

The main goals of the President and NARA’s efforts are to modernize Federal government recordkeeping, and establish digital management and archiving compliance of government electronic communication data like email and social media. The Capstone introduced by NARA helps agencies satisfy the requirements in the Managing Government Records Directive.

Retain Unified Archiving, powered by GWAVA, can help your agency follow the Capstone approach by:

  • Ensuring all email records are archived and secure
  • Preventing unauthorized access, modification, or deletion of declared records
  • Ensuring all records in the repository are retrievable and usable for FOIA and Discovery
  • Capturing and maintain required metadata
  • Following Agency-specific retention policies, including deletion schedules
  • Preserving permanent email records for eventual transfer to NARA

GWAVA is already used by many Federal agencies to archive their electronic communication, and has prepared these agencies to meet this data management directive. Retain can meet these new email archiving requirements for your agency as well. Retain archives email data for all major email systems including Exchange, Office 365, Gmail, and GroupWise, On-prem or in the Cloud.

Not only does Retain manage and archive email, it also archives the following:

  • Mobile device communication data for BlackBerry, Android, and iOS devices.
  • Social Media posts on Yammer, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
  • Instant Messages on Lync (now Skype for Business), AIM, Yahoo Messenger, and Google Hangouts.
  • Web searches on Google, Bing, Yahoo, YouTube, and Wikipedia.

To learn more about Retain Unified Archiving, visit www.RetainArchiving.
If you have any questions, please email or call +1 (866) GO-GWAVA. You can also request a quote by clicking the “Need a Quote” button at the top of the page.

Photo Credit: President Barack Obama signs into law a bill by Joint Hometown News Service is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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