ARCHIVED: Support for Full FY 2004 Funding for NARA's Electronic Records Archive (ERA)

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October 6, 2003

The Honorable C.W. Bill Young
Chair, Committee on Appropriations
United States House of Representatives
H-218 Capitol Building
Washington, DC 20515-6015

The Honorable David R. Obey
Ranking Member, Committee on Appropriations
United States Senate
S-125 Capitol Building
Washington, DC 20510-6025

BY FAX: 225-9476

Dear Chairman Young and Ranking Member Obey:

We write to you today on behalf of the American Association of Law Libraries, the American Library Association, the Association of Research Libraries and the Medical Library Association to thank you for approving the FY 2004 budget request for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), including full funding for the Electronic Records Archive (ERA). We are very concerned that the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury, and General Government has eliminated funding for the ERA in FY 2004 in order to offset additional funding for AMTRAK. If those funds are not restored in the Senate bill, we urge you to demand that the full budget request of $35.9 million for the ERA be restored when H.R. 2989 goes to conference.

This is a very shortsighted decision that will serious curtail the important progress made by the ERA in capturing, making available, and preserving crucial electronic government information. We urge you to restore the $35.9 million for the ERA that was requested by the President. Continuous funding for NARA's electronic preservation program is critically important to ensure that the Government's electronic records, those hundreds of thousands of "born digital" records that agencies create on a daily basis by taking optimum advantage of the latest electronic technologies, are preserved and remain permanently accessible to the American public.

The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) is a nonprofit educational organization of over 5,000 members who respond to the legal information needs of legislators, judges, corporations and small businesses, law professors and students, attorneys, and members of the general public. AALL's mission is to promote and enhance the value of law libraries, to foster law librarianship, and to provide leadership and advocacy in the field of legal information and information policy. The American Library Association (ALA) is a nonprofit educational organization of over 65,000 librarians, library educators, information specialists, library trustees, and friends of libraries representing public, school, academic, state, and specialized libraries. ALA is dedicated to the improvement of library and information services, to the public's right to a free and open information society--intellectual participation--and to the idea of intellectual freedom. The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a not-for-profit organization representing 124 research libraries in the United States and Canada. Its mission is to identify and influence forces affecting the future of research libraries in the process of scholarly communication. ARL programs and services promote equitable access to, and effective use of, recorded knowledge in support of teaching, research, scholarship, and community service. The Medical Library Association (MLA) is a nonprofit, educational organization of more than 900 institutions and 3,800 individual members in the health sciences information field, committed to educating health information professionals, supporting health information research, promoting access to the world's health sciences information, and working to ensure that the best health information is available to all.

AALL, ALA, ARL and MLA are committed to the principle that the availability of government and legal information to all people is a necessary requirement for a just and democratic society. As entities in all three branches of Government move increasingly towards new electronic technologies to create government records, it is the obligation of Government to ensure the entire life cycle of these electronic records, from their creation to their preservation in an easily accessible and professionally maintained environment. We strongly believe that the responsibility of Government to provide permanent public access to and preservation of electronic records is necessary in order to ensure the important citizen needs for public oversight, for public accountability and for the public's trust and confidence in our Government.

We commend NARA for its commitment to engaging in many collaborative research efforts with other government agencies and academic research institutions that have led to the development of their vision, goals and strategic plans for a vibrant Electronic Records Archives. As today's technologies quickly become obsolete and the preservation of electronic records remains an ever-moving target, it is vital that NARA be given adequate funding for the ERA to continue to build the infrastructure that will ensure the preservation of electronic government records. We strongly believes that given the necessary level of funding, NARA will successfully implement the ERA with the end result that the electronic records created today will be continuously available for current and future use by our nation's citizens.

NARA has made great strides in the preservation and access of electronic records since the creation of the ERA. We applaud the Access to Archival Databases (AAD) System, the first publicly accessible application developed under the auspices of the ERA. The AAD provides the necessary search mechanism to assist the public in locating more than 50 million electronic records created by more than 20 federal agencies. Importantly, it provides the contextual information needed to understand the records better, including code lists, explanatory notes from NARA archivists and related documents. It is a vital component to NARA's ability to achieve its goal of providing the public with "ready access to essential evidence." Since March, more than 400,000 users have taken advantage of the AAD to locate and use the electronic records they need. NARA has made important progress through the ERA and the AAD, and the elimination of funding for the ERA in FY 2004 would have a devastating impact on the preservation of electronic government information.

The work of NARA is critically important in our digital age as agencies across all three branches of Government rely increasingly on creating electronic records rather than publishing them in print. The ERA project that NARA has implemented so successfully to preserve electronic government records is challenging and important. The progress made by the ERA must not be interrupted, or the loss in terms of public access to electronic government will be severe and irreparable.

Chairman Young and Ranking Member Obey, we appreciate your strong support for NARA and thank you for including the full FY 2004 funding request of $35.9 million for the Electronic Records Archives. We urge you to demand that this funding level be restored when H.R. 2989 goes to conference. Thank you very much for your prompt consideration of this matter, and please feel free to contact us if you have any questions.

Sincerely,

Robert L. Oakley
Washington Affairs Representative
American Association of Law Libraries

Emily Sheketoff
Executive Director
American Library Association
Washington Office

Prudence Adler
Associate Executive Director
Association of Research Libraries

Mary M. Langman
Coordinator, Information Issues and Policy
Medical Library Association