National Archives tilts toward paperless future

The National Archives and Records Administration plans to stop accepting non-electronic records submissions from agencies by the end of 2022.

Shutterstock image: National Archives front columns.

The National Archives headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The National Archives and Records Administration plans to stop accepting non-electronic records submissions from agencies by the end of 2022.

The records agency is already in the midst of an effort to corral federal agencies into embracing the electronic age. At the end of 2016, agencies were required to maintain emails that count as temporary or permanent federal records in electronic format, and by the end of 2019 that policy will extend to all media formats from documents to videos to tweets, under an Obama-era directive.

Now NARA is taking the next step on the way to a fully electronic archive. In a draft strategic plan put out for comment on Aug. 24, the agency announced it will "no longer accept transfers of permanent or temporary records in analog formats and will accept records only in electronic format and with appropriate metadata." The agency is also pledging to digitize 500 million pages of records to be available through the Archives catalog by fiscal year 2020 and to have 82 percent of agency holdings processed "to enable discovery and access by the public" by 2021.

"We have heard the administration's call for a more aggressive digital government agenda. Here at NARA, we have taken it to heart to be out in front and drive the change that needs to happen to bring about a more efficient and effective digital government," said David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, in an emailed statement to FCW.

NARA isn't abandoning paper, agency chief operating officer William J. Bosanko told FCW. "While these new strategic goals position NARA to be a leader in digital preservation and access, we are equally committed to preserving and providing access to the permanently valuable paper and analog records in our care."

The agency also plans to take a more active role in auditing agency compliance with federal records rules. NARA said that by fiscal year 2019, it will inspect records management practices at "10 percent" of agencies "to ensure that federal email and other permanent electronic records are being managed in an electronic format."

Chief Records Officer Laurence Brewer explained that the agency has been "increasing its capacity to conduct more agency inspections" over the past several years, and that the new strategic goal sets "a target for NARA to complete more agency inspections by the end of 2019 that specifically focus on management of email and other electronic records." NARA plans to review what "measures and targets are appropriate beyond 2019."

The goals here are "aggressive" said Don Lueders, a longtime federal records management expert now with IBM's Global Business Services, but he said that technology and policy upgrades will be required to meet the goal of eliminating analog records from agency submissions.

With 2022 just five years away, "the government must understand that agencies will not be able to meet that deadline using the same records management methodologies they've deployed for the last few decades... agencies will have to begin to fully invest in more innovative technologies, such as cognitive systems, content analytics and big data solutions, if they hope to meet that deadline," Lueders told FCW.

NARA's strategic plan also includes a focus on improving the workplace and creating a leadership pipeline while providing "all our employees with learning and leadership opportunities necessary to successfully transition to a digital environment."

The National Archives ranked 25th out of 27 midsized agencies in the 2016 Best Places to Work Agency Rankings put out by the Partnership for Public Service based on the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey conducted by the Office of Personnel Management.

This story was updated Aug. 24 with comment from NARA.