Thursday, November 27, 2008

Questions for the next Archivist of the United States

The Government Accountability Office has just released a new report, Confirmation of Political Appointees: Eliciting Nominees’ Views on Management Challenges within Agencies and across Government, that provides an overview of the core questions that people nominated to head each federal agency should be able to answer.

The report is broken down into 35 appendices, 7 of which concern topics that the head of any agency must able to address: acquisition management; collaboration; financial management; human capital management; information and technology management (alas, no mention of records management); results-oriented decision making; real property management and security.

The other 28 appendices contain questions specific to each of the 28 major executive branch agencies. Appendix XXI (found on page 100 of the report) concerns the National Archives and Records Administration. Somehow, in all of the excitement surrounding the election, I failed to realize that Allen Weinstein might leave NARA shortly after the inauguration; I just hope that if he opts to resign or President Obama requests his resignation, the circumstances that propel the nomination of his successor prove less contentious than those that surrounded Dr. Weinstein's nomination.

Interestingly, the GAO has identified only four questions that should be asked of any prospective Archivist of the United States. All of them concern electronic records:
1. Have you guided or advised transitions from paper to electronic records before? What experiences could you bring to this position that would enable you to effectively lead the government’s transition to electronic records?

2. What challenges in managing and preserving electronic records have you helped address?

3. Please describe your experience or knowledge related to managing, implementing, or using records management tools or principles to ensure that critical business information, such as information in e-mail messages, is available to those who need it when they need it.

4. One of NARA’s most critical projects is the development of the Electronic Records Archive [sic], which is to preserve and provide access to federal and presidential records. Have you led the development and implementation of large systems before? What, in your view, are the critical factors for successfully managing such an effort?

I'm looking forward to hearing the nominee's responses.

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