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The Race to Manage Government Records Begins

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As federal agencies crawl toward deadlines to permanently store their records in digital formats, the National Archives and Records Administration is bringing together vendors that want a piece of that business.

An August 2012 presidential directive requires agencies to store all emails digitally by 2016 and to store other records digitally by 2019.

In advance of those deadlines, the Archives is inviting vendors to schedule Web presentations about their technology before interested members of the federal information management community, according to the notice posted this month.

Vendors will be responsible for hosting and scheduling the webinars, according to an information page. The archives will simply pass that scheduling information on to records management officials at government agencies. 

The technology can be focused solely on records management or on related fields such as Freedom of Information Act compliance, the notice said. The Archives is also interested in bringing in technology from related fields such as e-discovery tools that help agencies and businesses collect information demanded by opponents in a lawsuit.

The Archives is also planning an industry day in September during which records management and technology officials will explain further the sort of technology they’re after, the information page said. 

Agencies are required to store permanent copies of records that may be useful to future historians and researchers but aren’t required to turn those records over to the Archives for 30 years. Many agencies now print paper copies of those documents, partially out of concern that current file formats will be hopelessly outdated and possibly useless three decades down the road.

Government transparency groups generally praised the White House records management order, but complained the deadlines were too far out. About 95 percent of government agencies fail to meet current statutory requirements for maintaining their electronic records, according to an Archives estimate based on agency self-assessments.

The Archives is also facing a deadline at the end of 2013 to come up with a comprehensive plan for federal records management, including management of emails, social media and the metadata associated with those and other documents. Metadata is information about the creation of a document or other digital product, such as the last-edited dates attached to Word documents or the date and time stamp on digital photos.

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