The Importance of Being Earnest (About Records Management)

Written on: April 20, 2010 | 2 Comments

I have said it before in a number of venues and I will say it again here, records management is the backbone of Open Government.  Without effective records management by all Federal agencies, the long-term success of the Open Government Initiative, not to mention the preservation and access of the permanently valuable records of the Federal Government, is in peril.

Yesterday we  sent a report, “Records Management Self-Assessment 2009: An Assessment of Records Management Programs in the Federal Government,” to Congress.  The report is a result of a self-assessment survey that we sent last Fall to 245 Federal cabinet-level agencies and their components, and independent agencies.  Although a 90 percent response rate sounds respectable, note that this was a mandatory survey.  Over 20 agencies did not respond.  Their reasons for not responding included:

  • The agency did not have an assigned records management officer responsible for completing the task
  • The responsible records management official did not receive the self-assessment
  • The agency missed the deadline, due to either accidental oversight or lack of resources to complete it

We cannot allow business as usual to continue in this way.  Records management must be taken seriously, not as a minor after-thought, by all Federal agencies.

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Buckle your seat belts for the the most alarming statistic in the report: Nearly 80 percent of agencies report that they are either at moderate or high risk of improper destruction of records.  With the exponential growth of electronic records, this is a particularly worrisome statistic.  These are your records, and you should be concerned.  We are.

It’s as simple as this:

  • Federal agencies must effectively create and manage records to meet business needs
  • Federal records must be kept long enough to protect rights and assure accountability
  • Federal records of archival value must be preserved and made available for future generations

We are working with Congress, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Federal agencies to improve records management performance across the Federal Government.  As Archivist of the United States, I am determined to work with Federal agencies to address this unacceptable risk.

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2 Responses to “The Importance of Being Earnest (About Records Management)”

  1. Kelly in Kansas said:

    The unwillingness of at least some federal agencies to acknowledge the importance of professional records management should be disturbing to all citizens. The era of electronic records makes effective records management even more critical.

    I appreciate the National Archives once again supporting effective records management across the federal government and, most importantly, bringing it to our attention that not all agencies are complying with what is actually a minimal requirement for any enterprise, public or private.


    (April 20, 2010 at 2:08 pm)

  2. jana gallatin said:

    Some of us at DoD are quite passionate about Records.
    I agree with Kelly in Kansas. I wish we could see citizens protesting and waiving signs to adequately fund RM across the federal govt!


    (May 13, 2010 at 5:16 pm)