Records Management Self-Assessment

I am pleased to announce that the 2015 Records Management-Self Assessment (RMSA) report is now available.

Laurence Brewer, Chief Records Officer for the U.S. Government, said, “This is our seventh RMSA, and we are very pleased to see real progress being made by agencies. We expect this improvement to continue, especially as agencies continue to work towards achieving the goals in the Managing Government Records Directive.”

Some highlights from the 2015 data include:

  • There continues to be gradual improvement in overall scores.
  • RMSA findings and recommendations are consistent with the goals and requirements of the Managing Government Records Directive (OMB M-12-18). We believe improvement will continue as the requirements of M-12-18 are implemented and as our records management oversight activities persist.
  • The majority of agencies indicated their records management staff have oversight over records created at the highest levels of their agency (i.e., those of the agency head and appropriate advisors and executive staff).
  • Agencies have policies and procedures in place for email. However, there is little or no auditing for compliance.
  • A majority of agencies are planning to implement the Capstone approach for managing their email.
  • Fewer than half of agencies report having records management staff participating in the design, development, and implementation of new electronic information systems. Of those who participate, only a quarter have approval authority.
building survey

Surveying the records management landscape across the Federal Government.
“Building Survey,” National Archives Identifier 32200321

We use this annual self-assessment to determine whether Federal agencies are compliant with statutory and regulatory records management requirements as well as to identify trends and areas where further guidance may be necessary.

Federal agencies use the annual self-assessment to identify strong and weak areas of their records management programs and to determine the impact of changes they have made since the previous self-assessment.

As a whole, the data in this report is used to improve records management practices within the Federal Government. Records management is the backbone of open government; effective records management by all Federal agencies ensures the preservation and access of the permanently valuable records of the Federal Government.

If you have any questions regarding the RMSA, please feel free to leave a comment here on the blog or send an email to rmselfassessment@nara.gov.

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FOIA Improvement and the FOIA Advisory Committee

On June 30, 2016, President Obama signed the bipartisan Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Improvement Act of 2016 into law. This law locks into place many of the Administration’s FOIA policies and initiatives and solidifies the role of the National Archives’ Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) in resolving FOIA disputes between agencies and requesters and improving compliance with FOIA.

President Obama Signs S. 337 FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, June 30, 2016

The law:

  • Codifies the Attorney General’s policy that agencies should release information unless “the agency reasonably foresees that disclosure would harm an interest protected by an exemption” or “disclosure is prohibited by law;”
  • Requires that agencies alert requesters to the availability of agency FOIA Public Liaisons and OGIS to help resolve disputes at several points in the FOIA process;
  • Directs the creation of a centralized portal the public can use to file FOIA requests electronically;
  • Establishes a Chief FOIA Officers Council to develop recommendations for increasing compliance and efficiency in responding to FOIA requests, and to identify, develop and coordinate initiatives for increasing transparency and compliance with FOIA’s requirements;
  • Requires that agencies post electronically records that have been requested three or more times;
  • Requires that agencies allow a minimum of 90 days for requesters to file FOIA appeals; and
  • Limits the deliberative process privilege to records that are less than 25 years old.

In conjunction with the bill signing, the White House also announced additional initiatives to continue to improve transparency. As part of this effort, the White House asked the members of the FOIA Advisory Committee to look broadly at the challenges that agency FOIA programs will face in light of an ever-increasing volume of electronic records, and chart a course for how FOIA should operate in the future.

The National Archives launched the FOIA Advisory Committee to allow agency FOIA professionals and requesters to collaboratively develop recommendations to improve the administration of FOIA. As I shared with you in April, the first term of the FOIA Advisory Committee ended on a high note when the Committee unanimously voted to support its first recommendation to improve the FOIA process. The Committee’s development of a consensus recommendation is an important milestone because it shows how agencies and requesters can work together to improve the FOIA process.

The second term of the FOIA Advisory Committee will kick off on July 21 with a meeting in the National Archives’ William G. McGowan Theater. Please visit the Committee’s webpage for information about future meetings and the Committee’s work.

We welcome Congress’s bipartisan, bicameral work to advance transparency, and the President’s new initiatives.

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95%: Describing the National Archives’ Holdings

The National Archives Catalog has reached a milestone: we now have 95% of our holdings completely described at the series level in our online catalog. This is a monumental achievement. Why? Because the National Archives holds over 13 billion pages of records, and we are adding hundreds of millions of pages to that total every year.

Describing our records in the online Catalog means that the information for all of those holdings is in one central place for researchers anywhere to search and browse, and is vital to our strategic goal to Make Access Happen. Description enables us to provide the archival context of records as they are shared and re-used by researchers, citizen developers, and the public.

We’ve come a long way since our first online catalog was released in 2001. By 2003, only 19% of our holdings were described online for the public to view. This means that without coming to an archives facility or contacting reference staff, the public could only be aware of 19% of our records. We know how difficult this made archival research.

National Archives Holdings Described 2003-2016

Describing our records also ensures that our archival holdings fit into an archival hierarchy. At the highest level of that hierarchy are Record Groups and Collections, and beneath those are Series. Beneath Series are more granular description levels – File Units and Items. When we say we have 95% of our holdings described, we mean at the Series level.

records hierarchy

For example, the series Photographs of American Military Activities, ca. 1918 – ca. 1981 consists of photographs documenting American activity, the bulk of which is military, from 1918 to 1981. You can see the robust level of description in this series identifying the hierarchy of records, dates, finding aid information, as well as scope and content notes. From this series description, you will also find a link to the items and digital objects in this series that are also currently described in the catalog. By reaching 95% series description, we have improved the ability for the public to be aware of and access our records.

The credit for describing our records goes to the over 500 archival staff at National Archives locations across the country. These locations include 13 Presidential Libraries, the Center for Legislative Archives, and 20 other archival units from our Washington, DC-area and regional facilities. The hard work and archival expertise of these staff were indispensable to the effort to describe to 95%, and we would not be here without them! Thank you all for your hard work and for your public service describing the primary sources for America’s history.

Just because we’ve reached 95% doesn’t mean our work is done. Our holdings continue to grow each year as we constantly receive new records. Our plan for the foreseeable future is to maintain 95% described as our overall holdings continue to grow, while working to add more lower level descriptions as well. To do this, archivists will continue to actively describe our remaining records, and will complete descriptions as new records are accessioned. We are committed to continuing to provide online access to as many of our records as we possibly can.

Description of the records of the National Archives is vital to our strategic goal to Make Access Happen. Without description, the public will not have enough information to access and make use of the records. Fundamental to the archival profession, description shines a light on our holdings so the public can search and make use of the records of the National Archives, increasing transparency and accountability in our democracy.

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U.S. Digital Registry

The National Archives is pleased to participate in the U.S. Digital Registry, the authoritative resource for official third-party websites, social media platforms and mobile apps managed by the U.S. federal government.

The U.S. Digital Registry is an API-generating platform designed to authenticate third-party sites in the federal government in order to help maintain accountability over our digital services.

As more users access services, communicate, and engage with their government online and through social media, the U.S. Digital Registry makes it easier for users to identify official government sites and services, and more quickly access the information they need. Access to accounts is improved as users can search for accounts by platform, language, agency, and topic.

Woman using card catalog

Use the U.S. Digital Registry to find the government services you need. Photo: “Card catalog in Central Search Room, July 31, 1942.” Record Group 64: Records of the National Archives and Records Administration. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/3493244

The U.S. Digital Registry has grown to a resource of more than 8,200 third-party accounts and 350 mobile apps from across the federal government. With so many federal agencies providing services online, it is more important than ever to find ways to enhance access and raise accountability, while providing a platform for developers to use the data to build technological solutions for federal agencies. For example, this visualization presents data from the Registry, and allows users to filter by agency, platform, or keyword.

The National Archives currently has 114 social media accounts listed in the U.S. Digital Registry, including our official Facebook, Flickr, GitHub, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter, and YouTube accounts.

Services such as these have the potential to help us more meaningfully analyze and make informed decisions about our online presence, and help us gain insight into how to improve our communications, while delivering the best service possible to our customers.

Learn more about the U.S. Digital Registry from the General Services Administration.

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Celebrating Diversity at the National Archives

The National Archives is committed to maintaining an “open, inclusive work environment that is built on respect, communication, integrity, and collaborative teamwork.”  Together, we are strengthened by diversity and advanced by inclusion. As part of NARA’s ongoing focus on the subject of civil rights and diversity, both in the historical record and as an organization, I am pleased to announce several exciting initiatives at the National Archives that both celebrate our diversity and provide a forum for education and communication.

Promoting diversity among our staff is an integral part of NARA’s diversity and inclusion strategy. One way we promote such diversity is through Employee Affinity Groups: voluntary, employee-driven groups based around shared interests or life experiences. The groups facilitate professional development, cultural connections, diversity, and communication throughout our workforce.  When the groups started in 2014, we had just two: Stonewall@NARA, a group for LGBTQ employees and allies, and IKE, our veterans group. In the last two years we have added four more to include: HALO (Hispanics and Latinos); disABILITY (Individuals with Disabilities); Say it Loud! (African-Americans); and WAG (Women’s). Among other activities, these groups have been working to develop web resources, identify relevant records, digitize documents, and add them to our Catalog.

Recently, the Stonewall@NARA group launched Discovering LGBTQ History on Tumblr to feature documents reflecting the history of American lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender men and women from 1778 to the present.

Harvey Milk Letter 152903

San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk’s letter President Carter, June 28, 1978. Milk hoped that the President would “take a leadership role in defending the rights of gay people.” National Archives Identifier 152903. Read the full story on Discovering LGBTQ history.

2016 marks the 225th anniversary of the Bill of Rights, one of our nation’s early attempts to form “a more perfect union.” We are celebrating this milestone with our Amending America initiative, which includes exhibits, National Conversation events, and online activities exploring the rights we have as a diverse society and examining the 11,000 attempts to amend our constitution. As part of this thematic focus, NARA will host a Wikipedia editathon in our Innovation Hub related to LGBTQ rights and the records we hold in the National Archives. This event will take place on Thursday, June 16 and is free and open to the public.

Continuing our tradition of supporting the Wikipedia community, the National Archives is excited to host the Wikimedia Diversity Conference on June 17-18. We are co-organizing the event with Wikimedia D.C., which reflects our shared commitment to embracing diversity. The Wikimedia Diversity Conference aims to address issues of diversity within the editing community of Wikipedia and related projects, including the highly publicized gender gap among Wikipedia editors. This event is an outgrowth of last year’s WikiConference USA at the National Archives, during which the topic of diversity became a major theme. The conference is open to the public, whether you are already a Wikipedia editor or not, especially anyone interested in the subjects of Wikipedia or diversity. The Wikimedia Diversity Conference will include workshops, panels, and presentations that highlight practices, tactics, or ideas addressing diversity in the Wikimedia movement, and related issues such as systemic bias and online harassment.

Wikipedia represents an important venue for NARA to “make access happen,” sharing our records with a wide audience in a way that is relevant to them. Hosting the Wikimedia Diversity Conference reaffirms the National Archives’ commitment to providing access to all government records for everyone. Our work with Wikipedia, and on the theme of diversity specifically, is another example of NARA innovating to achieve our vision of bringing greater meaning to the American experience through government records. You can read more about our Wikipedia strategy in NARA’s most recent Open Government Plan.

I expect NARA’s staff in attendance to offer valuable insight for the conference, as well as to learn and grow from the discussions that take place. We are proud be a part of this project which will encourage diversity in both the Wikipedia and the National Archives communities.

Posted in Collaboration, Leadership, NARA Records, Open Government, Participation, Social Media, Special Events, Transparency | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Letters to the President

One of the most rewarding parts of my work is sharing the treasures of the National Archives with kids and their families.

Through the support of the National Archives Foundation, we continue to host sleepovers in the Rotunda of the National Archives. These events give kids the chance to spend the night next to America’s most precious treasures: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, while engaging them in activities that help them learn about our nation’s history, and explain the important role of the National Archives.

One of the activities during our sleepovers provides an opportunity for kids to write letters, as I did, to the President of the United States, which are then delivered to the White House.

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Kids at the National Archives sleepover write letters to the President of the United States. February 6, 2016. Photo by Jeffrey Reed.

Our latest delivery received a response directly from the President!

President Obama Letter page 1

President Obama Letter page 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is a privilege to continue to host these events for kids and their families, and encourage them to become more involved in their government. For more information, please visit archivesfoundation.org/sleepover.

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Celebrating Service to the Public

Yesterday, at our annual Archivist’s Achievement Awards ceremony, we celebrated Public Service Recognition Week by recognizing staff across the country for their exceptional contributions to the mission of the agency.

2016 Archivist's Award Ceremony program cover

In my remarks, I said:

As you have heard me say before:  for me every week of the year is Public Service Recognition Week because I am so proud of the work that you all do across our agency in service to the American people.  Whether you are redacting pages from a service record in St. Louis, or refiling an IRS return in Lenexa, or helping someone navigate the FOIA process, or connecting someone with their family history, or ensuring that our staff and users are safe, or restoring a deteriorating film, or ensuring the a First Lady’s correspondence is accounted for, or educating a school group about how our government works, or safeguarding NARA holding from leaks, condensation, and frost problems, or doing any one of the hundreds of tasks the comprise the work of the National Archives—thank you for your passion and commitment to our mission.

Since 1985, the first week of May has been set aside to honor the men and women who serve our nation as Federal, state, county, and local government employees.  In this year’s proclamation, President Obama writes:

“Our Nation’s progress has long been fueled by the efforts of selfless citizens who come together in the service of their fellow Americans to change our country for the better.  At the birth of our Nation, our Founders fought to secure a democracy that represents the people, and the civil servants who pour everything they have into making a difference are the individuals who keep that democracy running smoothly and effectively.  During Public Service Recognition Week, we honor those who dedicate themselves to ensuring America’s promise rings true in every corner of our country, and we recommit to upholding the values they fight for every day.”

“Throughout this week, we recognize the tireless efforts of the women and men who strive to make ours a government that stays true to its founding ideals.  With 85 percent of the Federal Government jobs located outside the Washington, DC area, our Federal workers…play key roles in ensuring the voices of the American people are heard.  And even in the toughest of circumstances, including a politics that does not always fully recognize the value of their work, our public servants—often at great personal sacrifice—continue striving to build a better country and to bring lasting change to the lives of ordinary people across America.”

“Serving the public is not just a paycheck—it’s contributing to the steady effort to perfect our Union over time so our democracy works for everyone.  This week, let us embrace the hopeful spirit that embodies the extraordinary work of our civil servants.  It is the same spirit that built America, and because of the hard work of compassionate and determine public servants, it will continue to build us up for generations to come.”

More than 50 nominations were submitted for this year’s awards.  144 NARA staff were recognized for their individual or group accomplishments ranging from improving employee engagement to volunteer service to citizen archivist to information technology quality assurance to reduction of declassification backlogs to customer service to a Presidential Library digital pilot project to helping a record number of researchers to safeguarding records at risk to creating a training program for archives technicians eligible for promotion, for example.  The ceremony was broadcast to our sites across the country and staff enthusiastically celebrated the accomplishments of their colleagues—a true One NARA event! I am so proud of this staff.

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FOIA Federal Advisory Committee Report

I am pleased to announce that the inaugural Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Advisory Committee, under the direction of the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), submitted a final report and recommendations regarding FOIA Fees, Proactive Disclosure, and Oversight and Accountability.

The Committee’s report and their recommendations is the product of two years of hard work by the Committee to study the current FOIA landscape across the Executive Branch, to provide advice on improving FOIA administration, and to make recommendations to the Archivist of the United States.

Members of the 2014-2016 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Advisory Committee. From left to right: James Holzer, Mark Zaid, Ginger McCall (forner member), Brent Evitt, Larry Gottesman, Melanie Pustay, Nate Jones, David Ferriero, Lee White, Sean Moulton, Marty Michalosky, Jim Hogan, David Pritzker, Clay Johnston.

Members of the 2014-2016 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Advisory Committee.
From left to right: James Holzer, Mark Zaid, Ginger McCall (forner member), Brent Evitt, Larry Gottesman, Melanie Pustay, Nate Jones, David Ferriero, Lee White, Sean Moulton, Marty Michalosky, Jim Hogan, David Pritzker, Clay Johnson.

OGIS provides leadership, administrative and logistical support for the FOIA Advisory Committee. Director James Holzer serves as the Committee’s Chair, and a member of the OGIS staff acts as the Committee’s Designated Federal Officer (DFO).

Much of the Committee’s work was done by its three subcommittees: FOIA Fees, Oversight and Accountability, and Proactive Disclosures. The DFO attended all of the subcommittees’ meetings and was included on all correspondence between members. OGIS staff also ushered the Fees and Oversight and Accountability Subcommittees through the process necessary to gather new information from agency FOIA professionals about how fees are used and the role of FOIA Public Liaisons. This information improved Committee members’ and public understanding of the issues, and influenced its recommendations.

The Committee prepared this report prior to the final meeting of the 2014 – 2016 term of the Committee, and documents all of the work done by the Committee over its two year term. The report also includes background on the Committee’s creation, summaries of the Committee’s quarterly meetings, and a summary of the work undertaken by the Fees, Oversight and Accountability, and Proactive Disclosures Subcommittees. Far from an end result, Director Holzer intends to use the report as a starting point for the next term of the Committee. The Committee is accepting comments on the recommendation and on the Committee’s Final Report. Please direct all comments to: foia-advisory-committee@nara.gov

The Committee’s development of a consensus recommendation is an important milestone: it shows that agencies and requesters can work together to improve the FOIA process. The Committee’s unanimous decision to send forward its first recommendation to the Archivist is also a testament to the importance of transparency, participation, and collaboration.

This report reflects the Committee’s thoughtful and thorough work on this important topic, and I want to thank Director Holzer, the Office of Government Information Services, and the entire FOIA Advisory Committee for their hard work and dedication to this important topic.

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DPLAfest 2016

I have the honor to be co-hosting DPLAfest 2016 in Washington, D.C., next week, April 14-15, 2016. Along with the Smithsonian Institution and the Library of Congress, we will host DPLA’s third annual series of interactive workshops, hackathons, and discussions.

The National Archives plays a major role in this year’s DPLAfest. Together with DPLA’s Executive Director Dan Cohen and representatives from other host organizations, I will be welcoming members of the public to DPLAfest 2016 as we kick off this year’s event.

Various staff from across the National Archives will be presenting on innovative projects throughout the event, including sessions on Making, Finding & Using Animated GIFsDigital Collections in the K-12 Classroom, as well as Transcription Projects at the National Archives.

With our colleagues at Historypin, we will provide a presentation on APIs, Apps, and Audiences. The National Archives and Historypin have been working together on a project to digitize World War I content and increase the creative reuse and impact of these collections. Based on the information gathered, we are creating a mobile app to deliver World War I content to museums, teachers, and coders. This presentation will provide an opportunity to share more about the process we followed and the app we’ve built, as well as to engage with the digital humanities communities and experts in the field.

WWI app image

Staff from the National Archives, the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian will also serve on the panel discussion: “Opportunities and Challenges in Collaboration.” We are proud of the innovative work we are doing at NARA, and we are eager to share it with the community.

DPLAfest 2016 will appeal to anyone interested in libraries, technology, eBooks, education, creative reuse of cultural materials, law, open access, and genealogy research. DPLAfest brings together librarians, archivists, museum professionals, developers, technologists, publishers, authors, teachers, students, and many others to celebrate DPLA and its community of creative professionals.

You can keep up to date about DPLAfest 2016 by subscribing to its news list, bookmarking the DPLAfest 2016 homepage, keeping tabs on news and blog feed, or follow #DPLAfest on Twitter and Facebook.

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Let’s Talk! Join me for the Open Government Webinar

Since 2010, we have made significant accomplishments in open government at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). We have published 3 plans and accomplished more than 120 commitments. NARA commitments are even featured in the U.S. National Action Plan on Open Government.  But we still need to do more and we need to hear your ideas on how we can improve.

OpenGovImage

Please join me for a webinar with other NARA executives on Tuesday, March 29 from 2:00 – 3:00 PM Eastern Time. We will provide an overview of the agency’s next Open Government Plan and related topics and seek your ideas, suggestions, and feedback on what we can improve.

Register for the webinar today.  

Do you have ideas on how to improve the researcher experience?  Do you have suggestions for better ways for NARA to collaborate, encourage public participation, or innovate? How can we provide greater transparency to our records or our processes? Let us know!

Learn more about our efforts by reviewing our previous Open Government Plan and visiting Archives.gov/open.

Share your suggestions or questions in advance and during the webinar on History Hub, our pilot collaborative platform, or email opengov@nara.gov. You’ll also be able to make suggestions by chat or phone during the webinar, but we’d love to have your contributions on History Hub.

 Agenda:

  • Introduction – David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States
  • Open Government Plan Process – Pamela Wright, Chief Innovation Officer
  • Innovation – Pamela Wright, Chief Innovation Officer
  • Research Services – Ann Cummings, Access Coordinator
  • Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) – Gary M. Stern, General Counsel and Chief FOIA Officer
  • Declassification – Sheryl Shenberger, Director of the National Declassification Center
  • Records Management – Laurence Brewer, Acting Chief Records Officer for the U.S. Government, and Director, Records Management Operations Program
  • Ideas, Comments, and Suggestions – Participants of the webinar are asked to share their thoughts on what NARA should do to strengthen open government.
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