New roadmap envisions electronic record-keeping by 2020

Friday - 8/24/2012, 8:18pm EDT

A new White House directive provides a roadmap for agencies to phase out the use of paper record-keeping by the end of the decade.

By Dec. 31, 2019, federal agencies will be required, "to the fullest extent possible," to manage records electronically — including digital forms of communication, such as email — according to a directive from the Office of Management and Budget and the National Archives and Records Administration.

The new guidance comes nearly eight months after President Barack Obama issued a memo calling for agencies improve the archiving of digital records.

In a memo to the heads of agencies attached to the latest guidance, Jeffrey Zients, the acting OMB director, said updated records-management practices will bolster open government efforts and improve business processes at agencies.

Earlier deadlines loom

Ahead of the 2020 goal, the directive sets a number of incremental deadlines.

By Nov. 15, agencies must appoint a senior agency official tasked with overseeing records management. Over the next year, agencies must begin developing individual plans for meeting the 2020 deadline. Agencies should also consider digitizing existing analog records.

By 2016, agencies will be required to manage all email records — both permanent and temporary — using electronic methods. By that time, NARA plans to have already issued updated guidance for storing and disposing email records.

The new directive also requires agencies to better train staff about records-management practices, an oversight that has long plagued agencies' record-keeping practices. Nearly a quarter of federal agencies surveyed by NARA in its most recent annual report didn't provide records-management training to all senior staff.

By Dec. 31, 2014, the new guidance requires agencies to develop training for applicable employees.

NARA seeking solutions

In his memo last fall, Obama warned that the growing variety of digital communication — a "surge of information" — threatened to overwhelm the existing process for managing them.

The new directive aims for automated technologies to streamline the process and lighten the loads of records officials. The guidance directs NARA and the Federal Chief Information Officers Council to work with the private sector to develop "economically viable" solutions for better digital archiving.

NARA will also examine whether agencies' cloud-computing systems can support records-management components.

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