Justice and Law Enforcement:

Comments on H.R. 316

B-202303: Published: Jun 18, 1981. Publicly Released: Jun 18, 1981.

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By congressional request, GAO commented on H.R. 316. The intent of this bill is to protect individuals and businesses against untimely Government regulatory enforcement with respect to their otherwise private business or personal endeavors. The bill would provide a uniform 4-year limit on the time that any agency could require a person to retain records. While GAO believes that reducing records retention requirements is a desirable goal, it does not believe that imposing a single maximum retention period is a desirable way to achieve that goal. Instead, GAO prefers the approach recently adopted in the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1980. Should Congress decide that a uniform retention period for all federally mandated recordkeeping is desirable, GAO has several recommendations. The bill measures the 4-year retention period from the date of the transaction or event which is the subject of the record. However, the bill needs to define what is meant by transaction or event. Also, records relating to Government contracts should be exempted from the provisions of the bill. Alternatively, the bill should be amended to provide that, with respect to Government contracts, the transaction or event refers to the point of time when final payment is made under the Government contract or when the program to which the contract relates is completed. The bill would establish a uniform 4-year limitation period on the bringing of actions by the Government to enforce laws or regulations or to collect fines, penalties, or forfeitures. GAO is opposed to the enactment of this limitation. A law with such broad application would have a devastating effect upon ongoing efforts to collect billions of dollars in delinquent receivables which have been identified by Federal agencies. Further, since the limitation period for actions against the Government is in most instances 6 years, such a law would result in affording litigants against the Government a greater period of time within which to sue to protect a private interest than the Government is afforded to sue to protect a public interest. GAO favors extending the limitation period in some instances to allow the Government to recover moneys owed it. While a section of the bill excludes from its application records relating to dangerous materials, another section does not. It is unclear whether this distinction was intended. Also, Congress may want to broaden the definition of dangerous materials.

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