New electronic records plan brings government into 21st century

Monday - 8/27/2012, 8:40pm EDT

Paul Wester, director of modern records program, NARA

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A new directive requiring agencies to move to electronic forms of record-keeping by 2020 will push an often two-steps-behind federal government fully into the 21st century, the National Archives and Records Administration says.

"There's a tremendous amount of paper [records] still in federal agencies across the entire government," said Paul Wester, the director of the modern records program at NARA, in an interview on In Depth with Francis Rose. "Agencies have been and continue to be in a transitional period — moving from a kind of 20th-century paper-based paradigm for doing their work towards having an electronic, citizen-focused approach to doing their business."

Paul Wester, director of modern records programs, NARA

The directive, issued by NARA and the Office of Management and Budget last week, sets a number of incremental goals ahead of the end-of-the-decade deadline. Agencies are required to appoint a senior official to oversee records management and to beef up training surrounding records policy. The guidance also includes key steps agencies should begin taking to archive digital forms of communication, such as email and social media.

Directive replaces outdated policies, technology

Wester said the directive is the "impetus" agencies need to start moving from a paper environment to an electronic one.

Many of the technologies, policies and processes agencies now used are "based on a 20th-century paper understanding of how file systems and information systems work," Wester said. "What we're doing with this memorandum ... is figuring out how to help agencies manage their records in a more automated, more technologically sophisticated way."

Not only will that make agencies' individual business processes more efficient, but it also ensures the integrity of records deemed "permanently valuable" that are transported to NARA for archiving and preservation.

A key part of the directive is to expand and elevate the role of agency records managers.

The guidance directs NARA and the Office of Personnel Management to develop a specific records-management career track institutionalize responsibilities and best practices.

"What agencies really struggle with is having a defined job series that they can evaluate talent coming into their agencies against to make sure that they're getting the right types of folks to do this much more sophisticated and progressive kind of work than had been done previously," Wester said.

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