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Government-wide Records Directive Addresses Electronic Records

Good records management is key to ensuring government actions and decisionmaking is preserved for future FOIA requesters (among others).

By the end of the decade, Federal agencies must digitize management of electronic records—including the millions of emails sent and received each year—according to a new records directive introduced last week.

With a focus on a digital transition, the Managing Government Records Directive issued jointly by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), intends to improve records management policies and practices across the executive branch. Specifically, the August 24, 2012 directive establishes two broad goals coupled with specific steps for agencies to take to achieve those goals.

The first goal, to “Require Electronic Recordkeeping to Ensure Transparency, Efficiency, and Accountability,” sets a 2019 deadline for all agencies to electronically manage their permanent records , with a 2013 cutoff to come up with a plan to do so. It also requires agencies to manage all email electronically by 2016.

The second goal is to “Demonstrate Compliance with Federal Records Management Statutes and Regulations.” Agencies will designate a senior official to oversee review of the existing records management program, ensure records are properly transferred to NARA, establish agency-wide records management training and work with NARA to ensure comprehensive agency-wide records schedules.

Implementing these steps should lead to improved openness and accountability by better documenting agency actions, more effective transfer of permanently valuable records to NARA—OGIS’s parent agency—and cost savings through more efficient operations agency-wide, according to the directive.

The directive, ordered by President Barack Obama in his November 28, 2011 Memorandum on Managing Government Records, was a joint product of NARA and OMB. The Office of Personnel Management will work with NARA and OMB to carry out the stated goals, including establishing a new records management employment series requiring specialized skills and giving records managers a heightened role.

NARA will continue to play a major guiding role in carrying out all aspects of the directive. The agency will review related regulations to incorporate necessary changes to achieve the directive, issue new email guidance, explore cloud-based storage solutions and implement a government-wide analytical tool to assess agencies’ records management programs. The Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero, will convene and work with the senior officials from all 99 Federal departments and agencies to discuss progress and implementation of the directive each agency.

As the directive notes, “Records are the foundation of open government, supporting the principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration.” At OGIS, we couldn’t agree more. We look forward to working within NARA and with other Federal agencies to improve recordkeeping which we hope, in turn, will improve the FOIA process.

For more on the Directive, take a look at Records Express, the blog of our records management colleagues here at NARA.