White House Overhauls Electronic Records Requirements
Federal agencies in the US have until the end of 2019 to adopt systems that store and manage all electronic records in formats that will keep them safe and searchable for future generations.
Currently, many agencies print paper copies of the documents and other records they are legally required to maintain due to concerns that existing file formats won’t be viable 30 years from now when they must turn the records over to the National Archives and Records Administration.
The government is in the midst of a major push to transfer as much of its computer storage as possible into off-site computer clouds, which can pack information more tightly and cheaply than on-site data centers.
Obtaining cloud storage that’s not only economical but searchable as well is the key to an effective records management regime, Weismann said.
“Records management just isn’t given enough priority within agencies and it differs from agency to agency,” said Anne Weismann, chief counsel at the Center for Responsibility and Ethics, a major transparency group. “The concept here — and the same thing was done with [Freedom of Information Act compliance] — is to elevate it to a senior level, to stress its importance and to have more accountability, and I think that’s a great step.”
“They could have said 2014 and that still wouldn’t have been fast enough for me, but I could have lived with it,” she said. “But this is a very long deadline. I think it’s very easy for agencies not to do this. It’s an area where agencies don’t want to spend their limited dollars and I think they need a huge push.”
The memo also includes a 2013 deadline for the Archives to issue revised guidance on permanent storage of electronic records, including the metadata agencies should include in those records. Metadata is information about the creation of a document or other digital product such as the last edited dates attached to a Word document or the date and time stamp on digital photos.
That guidance also must include strategies for making electronically stored records searchable.
The memo directs the federal Chief Information Officers Council to work with the Archives and with industry to find open source technology that meets the government’s records management requirements and to incorporate records management requirements into future cloud computing acquisitions.
On average, about 95% of agencies fail to meet current statutory requirements for maintaining their electronic records, according to a NARA estimate based on agency self-assessments.