IRS scandal teaches agencies to archive

Tuesday - 7/22/2014, 1:07pm EDT

By Stephanie Wasko
Special to Federal News Radio

Agencies should be archiving all business communication to avoid the mayhem similar to what's going on at IRS. While the agency shifts blame from e-mail to instant messenger, Nancy Flynn, founder of ePolicy, said agencies need to take a look at managing the many communication options.

Flynn joined Tom Temin and Emily Kopp on the Federal Drive to discuss agency record-keeping strategies.

"One mistake the IRS made that has come out throughout this scandal, is the fact that they were relying on backup tape. Backup tape is not intended for the long term preservation of records. You want to archive those records," Flynn said.

Most agencies already have policies for business records applying to email. Those policies should transfer to newer technologies, according to Flynn.

"IM is nothing more than turbo-charged email. All of the risks, and rules and record-related regulations that apply to email, apply to instant messenger. You have to, as an agency—when it comes to employee use of IM—you have to manage your content. You have to manage use. And you have to protect, and preserve and potentially, one day, produce your records. So view your IM just as you view your email, and manage it in a strategic way," Flynn said.

One of the biggest problems with managing business records, according to Flynn, may be that employees don't have the knowledge or training needed maintain good record-keeping policies. She said employees who get in trouble for IM or email often are unaware of agency policies or even what a business record is.

"Training is very important," Flynn said, "you cannot assume as an agency director that employees know what a business record is or what your record retention policy is. You've got to provide that."

The readily available and downloadable messenger apps complicate the problem, said Flynn. She said agencies need to be aware of monitor how employees are using IM apps to protect the agency from future issues.

"Even if your agency is not retaining that chat, it's possible that that free IM app provider is archiving all of that chat. In the event of a lawsuit or a congressional investigation or a freedom of information act request, you may not be able to produce all of that chat, but an outside party might be able to produce it. You never want to be the only person in a court room who cannot produce your own business records," she said.

Flynn said agencies must continually update their records policies to adapt to the ever-changing technologies.

"It's kind of a moving target. As these technology tools evolve, as our use evolves, you've got to make sure that your policy and your technology inside your agency is evolving also," said Flynn.

Stephanie Wasko is an intern with Federal News Radio.

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