Chances are you don’t even realize it but paper shredders in state and local government offices are hard at work. Computer delete keys are also being utilized much more frequently to permanently get rid of documents, emails and other remnants of what might be considered a modern day paper-trail of official public business.
No, it’s not a return to the past era of clandestine records destruction known as Watergate, its just normal business practices these days in the State of Texas.
That’s according to rules adopted or proposed by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission shortening the required records retention schedules from five years to three years for state policy/program correspondence and three years to only one year for routine/operational correspondence. The agency adopted similar changes for Local Government correspondence in April of last year.
No formal explanation has been given as to why but the agency is frequently asked to reduce retention schedules because of “cost factors” and “dwindling budgets.” And yes, there is a cost associated with preserving and archiving what actions governmental entities engage in at taxpayers’ expense. However, we also believe there is just as great a value, if not greater, in preserving the details of daily government that transpires behind the open curtain of public scrutiny.
Without these documents you and I really only get to see part of the picture. The edited portion elected or appointed officials want us to see.
At the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas we don’t believe that’s good enough. We don’t consider a one-year and three-year records retention schedule enough time to effectively provide members of the public, news media, researchers or government historians with adequately time to examine controversial or costly projects in hopes of understanding what really happened, or even who might have benefited as a result.
That’s why FOIFT and Austin attorney Bill Aleshire are asking the State Library and Archives to consider extending the length of time records are kept. To better protect Texas taxpayers. We’d like to see Texas go back to the records retention schedule in place in 2009 but a compromise might be the best we can hope for.
The library board has agreed and asked their staff to bring back a new proposal which may split the different between the past and present: requiring two years for local and state routine/operational correspondence and four years for state and local policy/program correspondence. It’s a much better policy over what we currently have.