Views on the Limitation on Government Recordkeeping Requirements and Actions Act of 1981 and Federal Records Retention Policies

Gao ID: 117011 December 9, 1981

GAO presented its views on H.R. 316 and Federal records retention policies, including the potential impact of proposed budget reductions at NARS. H.R. 316 would provide a uniform 4-year limit on the time an agency could require a person to retain records and would preclude an agency from requiring a person to maintain, prepare, or produce any record, other than a record relating to a dangerous material, more than 4 years after the date of the transaction which is the subject of the record. The bill would also preclude any agency from taking legal action against a person for law enforcement or collection purposes more than 4 years after the date of the cause of the action. GAO believes that the broad scope of the bill would create serious problems in a variety of areas. Despite past legislative history to the contrary, the bill would apply to persons dealing directly with the Government by contract, grant, or loan. GAO believes that the problem of controlling unnecessary records retention requirements can best be dealt with by the effective implementation of the Paperwork Reduction Act which requires the review and coordination of records retention requirements imposed on the public. Records which would be affected by the proposed legislation contain evidence of financial and legal commitments that must be preserved to protect the legal and property rights of citizens. GAO recommends that records relating to Government contracts be exempt from the provisions of the bill. The 4-year statute of limitations imposed by the bill conflicts with other statutes and would adversely impact on ongoing collection efforts. The inconsistent exclusion of records relating to dangerous materials would limit the Government's ability to recover cleanup costs and damages from polluters of the environment. Planned budget cuts for the National Archives and Records Service (NARS) would have an adverse effect on the NARS ability to maintain its cost reduction efforts and might eventually require the Federal Government to store more records. The budget situation would limit the resources committed to functions which are critical to the Paperwork Reduction Act. The present arrangement for the Archivist to maintain and pay for storage of records does not encourage the retention of records beyond their useful life and actually saves storage costs and controls records storage practices.

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