The House passed legislation this week (H.R. 1376) that would require federal agencies and the White House to preserve email records. The legislation would also require them to be made searchable.
The bill essentially codifies existing practices into law. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill would have no significant effect on federal spending for this reason.
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) would be directed under the legislation to issue regulations (assuming the bill is passed into law) governing the preservation of email and other electronic records in an electronic format.
Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the bill’s sponsor, said in a press release that the bill would increase transparency under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). He cited an October 2017 report from the NARA which said that approximately 46% of agencies continue to print and file paper copies of email messages. Cummings noted that these records are more likely to get lost and are harder for agencies to retrieve during FOIA records searches.
The legislation has advanced past the House in at least one previous session of Congress but did not make it through the Senate. It is unknown at this point if it will advance further this time. The GovTrack website gives it a 33% chance of passing as of the time of this writing.