Archives crowdsources advice on federal e-records management

Ensuring electronic records management practices apply broadly across agency divisions and mandating a chief records officer serve at each agency are the most popular recommendations in a crowdsourced survey of best practices sponsored by the National Archives and Records Administration.

The National Archives launched the IdeaScale page on Feb. 16 in response to a November 2011 memo from President Obama requiring federal agencies to improve electronic records management.

Tuesday is the deadline for agencies to submit to the National Archives concrete plans for improving records management practices or maintaining practices that work well. NARA and the Office of Management and Budget will fold the agency reports into a governmentwide directive on records management, due out in July.

Records now are managed primarily on an agency-by-agency basis with little cooperation.

The agency reports are "deliberative and therefore not open to the public," NARA spokeswoman Susan Cooper told Nextgov on Monday. NARA is exploring ways to share some of the information contained in the reports in advance of the July directive, she said.

Agencies have struggled to meet statutory requirements for maintaining their records, failing about 95 percent of the time, according to a NARA estimate based on agency self-assessments.

In some cases, agencies aren't saving the proper records. In other instances, they are storing records electronically but not taking steps to ensure they can be read or retrieved years down the road.

Another popular idea on NARA's IdeaScale page is for agencies to simply outsource their electronic records management to NARA, which then would maintain those records in a single governmentwide system and provide access to the agency that created the record.

This likely would mean revising statutes that give agencies 30 years to turn over most records to NARA.

Because of that rule, by the time they're turned over documents are likely to be stored in a file format that contemporary computers may not be capable of reading. Archivist of the United States David Ferriero has suggested reducing that lag time to a single presidential administration whether it lasts one or two terms.