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Federal Records Must Go Digital, but Managers Say They Can't Do It Without More Resources

Pavel Ignatov/

Nearly half of federal records managers believe the Obama administration’s goals for making all new records digital and electronically searchable by 2019 is unrealistic, a new study has found.

That deadline, introduced in an August 2012 presidential directive, upset transparency advocates who said it gave agencies a pass to delay transitioning to digital records management systems and would result in even transparency-friendly agencies putting their limited resources toward other priorities.

Now, records managers say even that far off deadline won’t be achievable without more funding and better trained records management professionals, according to the study released on Monday by MeriTalk, a public-private partnership focused on improving how the government manages information technology. The study was underwritten by the information management company Iron Mountain.

Most importantly, just 54 percent of survey respondents said they’d be able to meet a mandate in the directive to identify all permanent records that must be digitized by Dec. 31. Only 18 percent of respondents said they’d made significant progress in actually digitizing permanent records, while 70 percent said they had little progress to report.

The survey respondents were 100 federal records managers. The study has a margin of error of 10 percent.

Currently, many agencies print paper copies of emails and other records they are legally required to maintain due to concerns that existing file formats won’t be viable 30 years down the road when they must turn the records over to the National Archives and Records Administration.

That means the documents will be much more time consuming for historians and researchers to parse through and raises the likelihood some vital information and insights will go undiscovered for years or generations.

The presidential directive gives agencies until the end of 2016 to store all email in electronic formats.

(Image via Pavel Ignatov/

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