Sunday, August 1, 2010

Illinois Electronic Records Act

Well, this is interesting: on 28 July, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a new state Electronic Records Act into law. This new law specifies that electronic records have "the same force and effect" as records created in other formats and that they are subject to the state's Freedom of Information law and encourages state agencies to create and transmit electronic records provided that doing so does not "jeopardize the efficient operation of state government."

Most significantly, it establishes a new Electronic Records Advisory Board composed of the following people (or their designees):
  • State Treasurer
  • Secretary of State (the Illinois State Archives is part of the Office of Secretary of State)
  • Governor
  • Attorney General
  • State Comptroller
  • Director of Central Management Services
  • President of the University of Illinois
  • Director of the Bureau of Communication and Computer Services, Department of Central Management Services
  • Director of the State Archives
  • Secretary of Transportation
The law charges the board with producing, no later than 1 July 2010, a report "recommending policies, guidelines and best practices" relating to the following electronic records management issues:
  • Long-term maintenance of electronic records
  • Management of electronic files in a networked environment
  • Recordkeeping issues in information system development
  • Log file management
  • Management and preservation of Web-based records
  • Retention periods for electronic records
Once the board's report is finished, the Secretary of State must post the resulting policies, guidelines, and best practices on its Web site and distribute them to all Illinois state agencies. Within six months of the report's completion, agencies must review the board's "recommendations and take all possible steps consistent with those recommendations to enhance the use of electronic means of creating, transmitting, and retaining State records."

There's a lot to like about this legislation. I'm a big believer in the value of interagency collaboration and cooperation (I helped to write a report recommending that a similar committee be established in New York State), and Illinois's Electronic Records Advisory Board will get a lot more attention and respect than any effort led solely by the Illinois State Archives. Agencies are going to find it pretty difficult to disregard the combined guidance of the Governor's Office, the state IT agency, the State Archives, the Attorney General, and the state's chief financial officials, and as a result the state is likely going to see some real improvements in the management of its electronic records.

However, I am dismayed by a couple of provisions embedded within the law; when reading what follows, please bear in mind that I have no knowledge of the developments that led to its passage and that there may be really good reasons why it is written as it is. First, the board has been given only 11 months to produce its report and agencies have only 6 months to review and implement the board's recommendations. The issues that the board must address will require extensive research and solicitation of input from state agencies and, in all likelihood, people who do business with the state and the general public (the law encourages e-mail transmission of information formerly sent via U.S. Mail). As a result, the board's members are going to have to work at a breakneck pace and, in all likelihood, devote less attention to some key issues than they would otherwise. Agencies running large or legacy information systems will likely find it very difficult to implement some recommendations within the allotted timeframe. In my humble opinion, it's better to move a little more slowly and do things properly.

Second, the board will cease to exist after it finishes producing the report. Electronic records issues are not "fix-them-once-and-then-forget-them" concerns, and, in my view, ongoing cross-agency communication and collaboration is imperative. Giving the board a couple of years to produce its recommendations (or a series of recommendations released at regular intervals) and then a year or so to answer questions from agencies and then produce a follow-up report outlining successes, lessons learned, and emerging areas of concern might have been a better alternative. However, Illinois has a multi-agency State Records Commission with regulatory powers, and the overlap between the membership of this commission and that of the Electronic Records Advisory Board is considerable; as a result, the board's dissolution may be less of a problem than it would otherwise.

Despite these concerns, I think that this legislation is a really promising first step. Even if the Electronic Records Advisory Board isn't reconstituted after 1 July 2011, its report will almost certainly produce tangible improvements in the state's management of electronic records. Moreover, personal experience suggests that the shared struggle to produce a major report in a very short amount of time will pave the way for ongoing communication and informal collaboration between board members.

Seeing how this legislation pans out is going to be interesting. I'm really looking forward to reading the board's final report and seeing how agencies implement its recommendations. I also hope that other states (e.g., New York) enact similar laws.

1 comment:

records management said...

Electronic Records is the records created by means of a computing device and subsequently stored on an electronic storage media and only retrievable through electronic means.