“What Are You Working On, Paul Wester?”
Ever wonder what exciting new projects the many employees at NARA are working on? The “What are You Working On?” blog feature aims to introduce a variety of NARA employees and highlight some of the exciting projects we are working on around the agency. Check for this blog series on Wednesdays!
This week, we introduce Paul Wester, Director of Modern Records Programs.
What is your name and title?
Paul Wester, Director of Modern Records Programs
Where is your job located?
College Park, Maryland, and anywhere I need to go to spread the word about electronic records management issues, from Boston to Chicago to Sedona to Kaohsiung (Taiwan) to Barcelona.
What is your job in a nutshell?
I am accountable for the “and Records Administration” part of our agency’s name.
I work with our National Records Management Program staff and with NARA’s senior executives to ensure we have the ideas, resources, and visibility to accomplish our Federal records management mandate and support NARA’s overall mission to ensure that permanently valuable records eventually come to the National Archives for continuing access and preservation.
What are you working on right now?
I am working on two major lines of work.
First, I work together with NARA staff members, records officers in the Federal agencies, and stakeholders outside the Federal Government (like public interest groups), to develop the policies, practices, and technologies to ensure better managed records and information across the Federal Government. Our overall goal is bring into the National Archives the records, especially electronic records, which document the national experience so we can preserve and make them available to researchers and the public.
Second, within our agency, I devote a lot of time to building and developing a high performing organization so we accomplish NARA’s mission. This work ranges from hiring and mentoring new staff, to collaborating with colleagues at all levels on how to continuously improve our work processes for customers and ourselves, to developing and communicating the values and work culture we need to succeed.
I spend a lot of time trying to learn more about what our staff sees in the Federal Agencies they serve and working with them to develop the plans and resources we need to achieve our overall mission.
How long have you been at NARA? Have you worked at any other NARA location?
I started at NARA on June 20th 1990, so I celebrated my 20th anniversary (the china and platinum anniversary) with the agency this past spring.
I started my career at the Washington National Records Center (WNRC) as a COOP student/archivist trainee while in graduate school at the University of Maryland. When I completed graduate school and started continuous, full-time work at NARA, I managed the reimbursable micrographics branch at the WNRC.
In May 1994 I moved to Waltham, Massachusetts and served in several capacities in NARA’s Northeast Region, including as the Assistant Regional Administrator.
In April 2001, I moved back to the Washington, DC area and led the Administrative Services Team in the Office of Regional Records Services (NR). I worked with NR’s regional offices and the administrative staff units in College Park to develop requirements for new regional archives and records center facilities.
In October 2002, I became the Director of the Life Cycle Management Division in the Office of Records Services – Washington, DC; and in July 2005 I was selected to be the Director of Modern Records Programs.
What has changed since you started at NARA?
Everything! When I started at NARA, we had mainframe, batch-processing computers and very few PCs — and none of the PCs were connected!
Instead of email, we circulated documents between offices with yellow buck slips. Communications was very hierarchical, with formal memos and very solemn, face-to-face meetings. Most of our external communications were done with newsletters, formal press releases, or other formal types of correspondence. We literally had a newspaper clipping service to keep track of NARA publicity on a regular basis.
Today, we share our records management guidance and publications on the web, and we communicate via internal and external blogs about electronic records management issues. We conduct a lot of meetings via teleconference and/or webinar, and we develop and share ideas about our work on wikis and through other collaborative tools. And our staff members live tweet at our records management conferences.
Do you have a favorite day at NARA, or a favorite discovery or accomplishment?
Every day is my favorite day at NARA! While my work is not always glamorous, I probably have the third coolest job at NARA, behind Trevor Plante and Marvin Pinkert.
One of the more exciting days of my career occurred this spring when I had the honor of testifying before Congress with AOTUS about Federal Electronic Records Management.
While it was not the first time I appeared before Congress, it was the first time my appearance was streaming live with members of our National Records Management Program having a “watch party” in our 2nd floor conference room in College Park. Talk about pressure!
What are your passions or interests outside of work?
I am a three-time graduate of the University of Maryland, so I love following my beloved Terps, especially when they beat Duke!
I have pieces of the floor from Cole Field House and the Georgia Dome (where Maryland won its men’s basketball NCAA Championship in 2002 … and yes, I still regularly watch the 2002 “One Shining Moment” montage on YouTube and listen to the song on my i-Pod Shuffle). One of my favorite evenings was April 4, 2006, when the Maryland women’s basketball team beat Duke University for the NCAA championship.
One of my first encounters with AOTUS occurred after I learned he prominently displayed Duke University paraphernalia in his new office, and I conspired to replace his Coach K bobblehead with one of my Terrapin bobbleheads.
I also spend a lot of time developing good health and spending time with my family. Over the past two years, I’ve lost over 80 pounds by eating steel-cut oatmeal daily, participating in NARA’s WeightWatchers at Work program [check out the before and after pictures], and sticking to an aggressive running regime. My family and I now enjoy traveling along the east coast so I can run distance races from 5Ks to full marathons. My next marathon is in November in Harrisburg, PA.
What is the last book you read, or the last book you loved?
The last work-related book I loved was “If We Can Put a Man on the Moon… Getting Big Things Done in Government” by William D. Eggers and John O’Leary. It has given me insights on how to approach some of the big challenges we face at NARA as we change and improve the Federal records and information management environment so we can accomplish our mission.
The last book for pleasure that I read and really loved was “The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to the Sports Guy” by Bill Simmons.
I am a huge fan of Bill Simmons (AKA the Sports Guy) on ESPN.com. One of my fantasies is to one year take annual leave in early March, travel to Nevada with Bill (and Malcolm Gladwell), and watch the 1st and 2nd Round NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament games while following the sports book at the Wynn Las Vegas.
It will probably never happen, but it is one of my dream weekends!
Meet more NARA employees: http://www.archives.gov/careers/employees/