Like most businesses, many government agencies and organizations do a lot of their communication through email correspondence. As agencies are steering away from stacks of paper and toward digital file systems there is still some work to be done on the policies that affect these documents. That brings up another issue: how do you balance saving on costs with saving important documents?
Some government agencies have adopted email policies designed to cut down on storage costs, improve workplace organization, and create a standard system for all employees. Organizations like the Los Angeles school board and government of Canada have implemented policy to delete emails with “no business value”. The measures are an attempt to cut back on government spending – which is usually a good thing. Fewer emails means less strain on the email storage and infrastructure, which saves taxpayers money.
While saving on spending is a noble ambition, the danger of destroying potentially important documents is riling up some FOIA advocates like Debi Daviau of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada. In the case of the L.A. school board, the automated deletion function of their system is particularly off-putting to some citizens. The school board’s email system is set to automatically delete messages with no noted business importance. Automation is a great tool for every workplace, but if not monitored correctly it can lead to inadvertent loss of information. While there are guidelines in place to prevent the permanent deletion of important files, there is always room for error. For instance, a document that may not appear important today may turn out to have an effect on events a year from now. It is difficult to say with 100% certainty which messages will be needed in the future, and that is why some government watchdogs are so apprehensive.
But why delete emails at all? There are plenty of secure and cost-effective options for maintaining correspondence back-ups. Cloud service providers offer off-site options that get bulky machinery out of government buildings and cut down on data storage costs. There is also the option of using correspondence management solutions that bolster the organization and tracking of messages. As technology offers more options, agencies will have to figure out how to balance funds against the best transparency tools.