Thursday, May 3, 2012

NARA releases 2011 records management assessment

Since 2009, the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has conducted annual surveys of federal government agencies' records management practices.  All of these surveys have revealed that electronic records management is a particular challenge for the federal government, and the 2011 assessment, the results of which NARA released earlier this week, is no exception.  Although NARA identified some modest successes, most notably increased transfers of archival electronic records, it's plain that management of electronic records remains an area of particular concern.  NARA found that:

< snip >
  • Many respondents do not know or understand key terms and concepts pertaining to electronic records;
  • Many respondents consider various aspects of electronic records management to be the purview of information technology staff;
  • A significant number of agencies do not have migration procedures in place to ensure that electronic records are retrievable and usable to conduct agency business;
  • Many respondents believe that media neutral records schedules eliminate the need for records management policies and procedures specific to electronic records;
  • A significant number of agencies use backup tapes, which NARA does not consider a recordkeeping system, to preserve electronic documents and e-mail records;
  • A third of agencies are using an ERMS [Electronic Records Management System] or RMA [Records Management Application] to manage their electronic records;
  • Over 40 percent of agencies use e-mail archiving applications to manage e-mail messages . . . .
< /snip >

These findings are depressing but not particularly surprising.  Electronic records management remains a real challenge for many public- and private-sector organizations.  I would be willing to bet that the feds are actually ahead of most (but by no means all) state and local governments, and I suspect that many corporations -- even those whose stock in trade is digital information -- are similarly challenged. Earlier this week, I blogged about the near-disaster that Pixar (which should be applauded for its candor) experienced, and Twentieth-Century Fox and Paramount have discarded or lost digital files that have monetary and artistic value.  A host of other corporations are probably hoping that their records and information management nightmares remain out of the public eye.

What does NARA propose to do about the sorry state of federal records management?  Appendix I of the recently released report offers a detailed plan of action, and I encourage you to read it -- and the rest of the report -- in its entirety.  However, I will say that I'm particularly pleased that NARA wants agencies to incorporate records management plans -- with benchmarks and resource allocations -- into their annual budget submissions to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).  I'm also glad that NARA to work with OMB to ensure that records management and archival functions are incorporated into new electronic recordkeeping systems and into the federal "IT governance process."  When a fiscal control entity demands something, government agencies tend to listen.

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