USDA grows quick wins in records management

Wednesday - 6/8/2011, 10:41am EDT

Rodger Matthews, deputy associate administrator for product management, Risk Management Agency, USDA

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, even email, all present unique challenges for agencies to balance open access to information while keeping up with records management. The Risk Management Agency of the Agriculture Department seems to have hit upon a solution. It was honored with the National Archivist's Achievement Award.

Rodger Matthews, deputy associate administrator for product management at the USDA's Risk Management Agency, told Federal News Radio necessity was the mother of innovation in this case.

"Well, about six years ago, I got a request from several employees for file cabinets of all things!" Matthews said he walked through the offices and noticed file cabinets strewn throughout the offices, boxes full of papers and piles of documents under desks. "I made the decision that we were going to look into doing something to get rid of all this paper and get caught up with the times and that's exactly how we got started."

The decision was then made, said Matthews, to have "one place. One place only for all the records to be housed across the agency. At the time, we had several different systems all over the agency and, to be honest, employees had their own particular personal files systems under their desks. So the first thing we had to do was come up with an electronic system that would work for everybody."

A contractor was brought on board to help design the system, making sure it's easy to get data and records into and out of and that security was in place.

After about four years of work, said Matthews, scanning stations were placed in each of the department's 16 locations. A meta data program was designed to allow users to label the documents and determine where they will be located.

"That was the hardest part," said Matthews. "Basically we had to tell our employees 'you're doing the same thing on the electronic system that you were doing before. You take the document, you create it. You name it, you place it somewhere. Well, you do the same thing in electronic systems.' (It) took a little while to get on board with that, but eventually everyone understood that they were doing the same thing."

In the end, employees have embraced the new system, and Matthews said he's pleased because "it saves time, saves effort, and obviously at the end of the day, it saves money."

Now, all department employees are trained every year in "what a record is and what a record isn't," said Matthews. Coming soon, emails and instant messaging systems will be added into the electronic records management system, "if it is determined by the employee that that email is, in fact, a record."

The key to making it all work, said Matthews, is training.