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Presidential Memorandum on Records Management

by on November 28, 2011


This morning, President Barack Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum on Managing Government Records. This memorandum marks the start of an executive branch-wide effort to reform records management policies and practices. A statement by Archivist David Ferriero has also been posted on our website.

The memorandum requires each agency to report the name of a senior agency official who will supervise an agency-wide evaluation of its records management programs. These evaluations, which are to be completed in 120 days, are to focus on electronic records, including email and social media. After the senior agency officials have been named,we will schedule meetings to provide additional information on completing the requirements in the memorandum.

These requirements are described in more detail in a Memo to Records Officers and accompanying Letter to Heads of Federal Agencies that we will be sending to agencies shortly.

We strongly support this memorandum from the President, which sends a very clear message to Federal agencies about the importance of electronic records.  Records management must keep up with the technologies used to create records in the Federal government and the President’s Memorandum underlines the critical nature of this.  We are pleased that this is a priority of this Administration, and appreciate that the President reiterated what we have long noted: records management is the backbone of open government.

Please feel free to leave a comment or question about the Memorandum here.

Updated 11/29 to indicate revised timeline for the Memo to Records Officers.


Comments

Peter Fowler November 28, 2011 at 9:17 pm

My company is applying a unique New Zealand model for the distribution of public domain government information to the U.S. market at the above URL. Our goal is to publish and organize all press releases coming out of the United States in real-time. Our vision is very much aligned with the Presidential Memorandum on Managing Government Records and wonder if there is scope for private sector input. If so how can we submit our ideas to help bring this vision to a reality? As users of U.S. government information we have observations we are happy to share and at the least want to find a way we can access all government press releases by email in real time. The process of doing this may be helpful, as when we can access all this information then so should anyone else who wants it, thereby practically promoting the principles of open government. Many thanks and regards, Peter Fowler

An Archivist November 29, 2011 at 6:50 am

This is all well and good, but many (if not most) agencies are still creating huge volumes of records (both permanent and temporary) in hardcopy. Where is the concern with that documentation? Over the past 10-15 years, as NARA’s guidance has focused more and more on the electronic, paper records have received short shrift and many of the permanent records are not being preserved properly.

Records Wreck December 1, 2011 at 11:06 pm

An excellent point. Physical records are much more difficult to manage and even harder to extract information from in an efficient manner. It seems section 3 (VI) attempts to address this by drawing a line in the sand and developing a path forward to transition physical records to electronic. This is a logical approach if you believe, as I do, that the best way to manage physical records is to stop creating them.

An Archivist December 7, 2011 at 7:10 am

Records Wreck’s comment “This is a logical approach if you believe, as I do, that the best way to manage physical records is to stop creating them” is misguided and uninformed. Physical records will never go away and the records management community needs to re-address itself to those resources with the understanding the how one handles electronic records does not necessarily work for records that exist in the real world.

Arian Ravanbakhsh December 7, 2011 at 8:59 am

To address some of the comments that have been raised here:

@Peter – keep reading the blog. As we move forward on the requirements in the Presidential Memorandum, we will be talking about ways different stakeholders can contribute.

@An Archivist – Clearly, the focus is on electronic records, however there is nothing in the memo that precludes NARA and agencies coming up with ideas that would work for records in all formats. In fact, we are looking to hear from agencies in their responses any recommendations that they have that will improve records management.

Keep the comments coming!

Gilbert Smeltzer December 7, 2011 at 12:47 pm

I attended the 12/7/ Bridge meeting – very informative. One of qeustions I had was answered at what was meant by Senior Level Official. Would the Records Manager be suffice or could serve as an alternative. submittI am not sure

Gilbert Smeltzer December 7, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Could discuss or clarify if NARA will lead the charge for funding to acquire ERMS or similar products to help agencies manage records electronically.

Arian Ravanbakhsh December 7, 2011 at 3:22 pm

As we just posted in our FAQ, The memorandum is not specific but the general benchmark is a senior official at the SES level with agency-wide visibility and authority. A comparable assignment would be the senior agency official required to work with NARA’s Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) as required by Executive Order 13526. Senior agency official designations are also required in the FOIA world.

Arian Ravanbakhsh December 7, 2011 at 3:25 pm

It is too early to speculate what may or may not be in the Directive regarding any specific solution. We are interested in any and all recommendations from agencies as described in section II of the memo.

Ron Layel December 9, 2011 at 6:13 pm

Interesting how many different views are presented in this blog, other blogs and various Social Media about what the major thrust or goal of the POTUS memo is. So far I’ve seen –
- fundamental REFORM in the policy & practice of Government RM;
– increased agency senior executive attention & support for RM programs already in place;
– digitizing all agencies’ paper records holdings;
– creating standardized and/or centralized Records repository systems (EDMS, ERMS, etc.);
– moving all Official Federal Records to the Cloud;
– increased transparency and “Opern Government” (maybe facilitated by the 2 previous items);
– increasing resources/budgets for agencies to devote to Records Mgt.;
– limiting resources for Records Mgt. to fit within current budget constraints;
– all of the above; or none of the above/other.

What do you think?

Arian Ravanbakhsh December 12, 2011 at 8:38 am

Ron, Thanks for your comment. I agree that it has been fascinating to see how different media have talked about the memo and what points they choose to emphasize. The Directive that is required could cover some or all of the points that you describe, but it is too early to say with any degree of authority. For me, the second point in your list is one that starts everything else happening. That’s why the first deadline for agencies is to submit to us the name of their Senior Agency Official that will oversee the rest of the activities called on by the Memo.

Lawrence Medina December 20, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Almost all Federal Agencies already have Records Management Officers reporting to the CIOs as part of the Clinger Cohen Act efforts. The individuals “to be named” are above the RMO and below the Secretaries… these are the people that have been missing all along. For the most part, the RMOs are AWARE of what NEEDS to be done, they just haven’t been funded or supported to the degree necessary to accomplish much of what needs to be done.
A large problem has been consistency across the agencies in how to attack the volume of electronic content being generated, especially email. There is no governance plan and the FEA isn’t meeting business needs, now that the Government realizes to they need to structure their administrative efforts closer to the model used in business- look at information as an ASSET and design systems to allow for greater access and use, along with establishing retention periods aligned more towards business uses and needs.
They also need to learn how to fund multi-year projects and consider day forward deployment of improved technologies, while creating a longer term plan for addressing the legacy content.

Bob O’Connor December 21, 2011 at 9:54 am

The White House and everybody is pushing e-records, which is a good thing but there appears to be many “roadblocks.” Specifically when it comes to Permanent Records. Can NARA handle the “Notification” process as I would assume business is ready to pick up? I also find it interesting that you have to “Notify” NARA even if the “Permanent” records originate in electronic format??? Again, agencies are ready to move forward but seems the process is very slow and organizations end up with “Permanent” paper and electronic records as they can’t destroy the “paper” records until NARA is notified and NARA approves. I understand it’s all about preservation and I get that, but would think our process needs to improve or we will continue to have warehouses full of paper records.

Scott Roley December 21, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Hi Lawrence;
Arian is on leave for the rest of the year, but I think he would agree that you well described many of the current issues with the “as is” of Federal records management.-sr

Ron Layel December 27, 2011 at 5:37 pm

Lawrence: Interesting that you say almost all agencies have Records Management Officers reporting to CIOs as part of Clinger Cohen efforts. My reading of Clinger Cohen is that it is all about “Information TECHNOLOGY”; while RM is about Information CONTENT. See the following from Subtitle C: (Sec. 5125): “Designates a Chief Information Officer (currently, a senior official) within each executive agency, with appropriate duties relating to information technology acquisition and management”. Maybe this shift away from focus on “technology acquisition” is part of what this REFORM of RM is/should be about.

I fully agree with you that part of it has to be about making necessary resources and senior support available to do what most RM’s already know is needed.

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