Records Management with a Backbone

In his Memorandum on Managing Government Records,  President Obama stated “…proper records management is the backbone of open Government.”  The Memorandum began an executive branch wide effort to reform records management policies and practices and required each agency to:

  • identify a senior official responsible for records
  • provide plans for improving or maintaining its records management program, especially electronic records; and
  • suggest obstacles to sound, cost effective management policies and practices

Finally, the Memorandum mandates that the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and I issue a Records Management Directive which focuses on:

  • creating a Government wide records management framework that is more efficient and cost effective
  • promoting records management policies and practices that enhance the capability of agencies to fulfill their statutory missions
  • maintaining accountability through documentation of agency actions
  • increasing open Government and appropriate access to Government records
  • supporting agency compliance with applicable legal requirements related to the preservation of information relevant to litigation; and
  • transitioning from paper-based records management to electronic records management where feasible.

I am pleased to report that this morning Jeffrey Zients, Acting Director of OMB and I issued the Managing Government Records Directive.  With lots of hard work on the part of National Archives and Records Administration, White House, Federal agency staffs and stakeholder groups, the directive charts new directions for the management of the records of the country.

Among the highlights:

  • Federal agencies must manage all permanent electronic records in an electronic format by 31 December 2019 and must have plans to do so by 31 December 2013
  • All agencies must manage both permanent and temporary email records in an accessible electronic format by 31 December 2016.
  • NARA  will issue updated guidance on managing, disposing of, and transferring email by 31 December 2013
  • All agencies must have records management training in place for appropriate staff by 31 December 2014; and
  • NARA will work with the Office of Personnel Management to establish a formal records management occupational series to elevate records management roles, responsibilities, and skill sets for agency records officers and other records professionals.

This is an historic moment for all of us charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the records of the country are being managed in a manner that will allow current and future generations to hold their government accountable and to learn from the past.

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3 Responses to Records Management with a Backbone

  1. Fred Grevin says:

    Part I, section 1.1 “By 2019, Federal agencies will manage all permanent electronic records in an electronic format” seems like looking for trouble, given the significant reduction in funding for ERA, and the general lack of reality in digital preservation for the REALLY, REALLY long term (as opposed to the next human generation).

    Part II, Section A3.1 states “By December 31, 2013, NARA will produce a comprehensive plan in collaboration with its stakeholders to describe suitable approaches for the automated management of email, social media, and other types of digital content, including advanced search techniques.” Isn’t that what NARA’s Office of Applied Research (http://www.archives.gov/applied-research/) has already done?

    Part II, Section A5 seems to imply NARA will share control over the records in the cloud with the agencies. A divided control system seems fragile and prone to contention. Do others read it that way?

    And I wonder about the wisdom of Part II, Section C2 “… expanding the number of permanent record series in the GRS [General Records Schedules] to reduce the scheduling and appraisal burden on agencies.” It seems to me this trades off an old problem (the scheduling and appraisal burden) for a new one: more permanent records to preserve. And they will be digital, worse yet.

    Best regards,

    Fred
    ———————————————————–
    Frederic J. Grevin

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  2. Paul Wester says:

    Thank you for your comments and interest in the Presidential Directive. We at NARA are excited by the chance to reframe records management in the Federal government for the 21st century.

    To address the specific issues you bring up:

    ERA has moved into its operations and maintenance phase, and we are working with our new contractor to maintain the system in an operational mode and make adaptations and corrections to the system to allow it to meet existing and emerging requirements for the system. Having the long-range target of 2019 will give us time to ensure that ERA and our information systems supporting records are full able to meet that challenge. With the new directive, NARA, and the rest of the Federal agencies will work closely together to develop solutions to effectively manage records. We anticipate that agencies will be able to develop plans that improve their processes to encourage the use of sustainable formats for their record materials.

    While the Office of Applied Research has already done a significant amount of work in this area, we want to work more with agencies on this goal to identify other factors that keep the existing plans from being widely adopted and implemented.

    The points that you raise about the cloud-based services are good ones to raise. NARA and its partners across the government will address this issue through the feasibility study that the Directive describes.

    Increasing the number of permanent series in the General Records Schedule (GRS) will, as you note, reduce the scheduling burden on agencies. Agencies can then use our pre-accessioning program to not worry about the preservation challenges.

    Thanks again for your comments and your interest!

    Paul Wester
    Chief Records Officer

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  3. Fred Grevin says:

    This posting is in reply to Paul Wester’s comments, dated 30 August 2012.

    First, Mr. Wester states “ERA has moved into its operations and maintenance phase, and we are working with our new contractor to maintain the system in an operational mode and make adaptations and corrections to the system to allow it to meet existing and emerging requirements for the system. Having the long-range target of 2019 will give us time to ensure that ERA and our information systems supporting records are full able to meet that challenge.”

    This doesn’t begin to address the system replacement issues over the very long term: permanent records won’t go away in 2020 and, in the current political environment where the only good government is no government or, at best, “small government” (whatever that is), the political support required to get funding for an entirely new system is improbable. And even that assumes funding will be provided in the interim to support “[the] … operational mode and make adaptations and corrections to the system.” I remain skeptical.

    Second, Wester says “We anticipate that agencies will be able to develop plans that improve their processes to encourage the use of sustainable formats for their record materials.” Whether the federal agencies as a whole are capable of developing such plans at all, of developing them within the time constraints of the Presidential Directive, and of developing them without additional funding, is debatable. There are all too many ‘ifs’ here.

    Third, Wester states “While the Office of Applied Research has already done a significant amount of work in this area, we want to work more with agencies on this goal to identify other factors that keep the existing plans from being widely adopted and implemented.” This implies OAR has not done such work (it has a long-standing relationship with, amongst others, the Army Research Laboratory) and is not capable of doing it. Which group at NARA is competent to administer this project, if not OAR? Why not build on what you’ve already got, rather than tearing it down?

    Fourth, Wester’s response to my question about shared control over records in the cloud is “NARA and its partners across the government will address this issue through the feasibility study that the Directive describes.” Has NARA really not heard about other such feasibility studies, such as the 2012 “Pilot Texas Cloud Offering: Lessons learned” by the Texas Department of Information Resources (http://www.dir.texas.gov/SiteCollectionDocuments/Texas.gov/ptco.pdf), and the adoption of the Tessella system by the National Archives of the UK? (see http://www.tessella.com/2011/04/press-release-the-national-archives-and-tessella-win-queens-award-for-enterprise/)

    Finally, The statement that “Increasing the number of permanent series in the General Records Schedule (GRS) will, as you note, reduce the scheduling burden on agencies. Agencies can then use our pre-accessioning program to not worry about the preservation challenges” simply does not address the issues created by increasing the burdens of a greater number and larger volume of permanent records. As a one-time archeologist, I applaud the intent. As a records and information manager who has to deal with reality (few and fewer resources; budgets decreasing every year; unwillingness on the part of users to provide sufficient metadata; and plenty more), I think this approach is not rooted in reality.

    However, I hope to be proven wrong, and wish the National Archives the very best of success in its reforms of the practice of records and archives management.

    Fred Grevin
    grevinf@earthlink.net

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