How NARA’s Helping Agencies on the Path to a Fully Electronic Government

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Officials are developing ways for agencies to measure their efforts to achieve fully digital records management by the December deadline.

For National Archives and Records Administration officials, 2019 is “a journey on the revolutionary path towards a fully electronic government.”

And for agency officials, that path is a rocky one.

At the top of the Digital Government Institute’s E-Discovery, Records and Information Management Conference Thursday, NARA’s Chief Records Officer Laurence Brewer asked the conference-goers (largely comprised of federal workers) to raise their hands if they felt their agency is on track to meet NARA’s December 2019 deadline to manage all permanent records electronically with an eventual goal of sending them to NARA in an electronic format.

Less than 10 hands went up.

Brewer then asked the audience to “groan” if they do not feel good about being on track to meet the deadline. Noise resounded across the room.

“Here’s the good news,” Brewer said. “It’s not [the] 2019 [deadline] yet.”

The CRO, together with NARA Director of Records Management Policy and Outreach Lisa Haralampus, detailed the steps that the administration is pursuing to help agencies manage their digital records electronically and move away from traditional practices around file processing to spur modernization.

“What we are trying to do is get away from a ‘pass/fail’ kind of approach for agencies,” Brewer said. “We want agencies to look at what they are doing from the perspective of maturity.”

Brewer said the administration is in a reporting period where they are learning about the challenges faced directly from agencies involved. They’re addressing whether the main issues are lack of resources, funding, systems and infrastructure, or all of the above. With that information, they are developing a “maturity model” specific to those areas, in the hope that it will eventually help agencies better meet their modernization goals.

Haralampus said they also sent a “success criteria for managing permanent electronic records” document to agencies last year, to help them better understand NARA’s expectations and policies, systems, and access controls in place that can be used in their efforts.

“For 2019, it’s really about developing guidance like the success criteria and maturity model that really helps agencies do what they need to do,” Brewer said.

The two also addressed NARA’s 2022 goal to stop accepting paper permanent records from agencies. They said the administration is developing digitization standards and regulations so agencies can have what they need for both temporary and permanent records going forward, which will allow them to better meet NARA’s requirements.

“My shorthand for 2022 is that it’s the next step on that journey, and on the revolutionary path to getting a fully electronic government,” Brewer said.

Haralampus added “it’s not just about digitization, it’s about having a digital government. That is our goal.”

In terms of improvements, Haralampus said she would love to see greater investments in the effort.

“The biggest change I would make is that all of a sudden, appropriators, executives, [chief finance officers], [data transfer officers would] realize the importance of this and be willing to invest in the people and technology,” Haralampus said.

Brewer said he’d like to improve the training that both NARA’s staff and agencies receive as they transition away from old practices and align with what’s needed to function in a fully electronic government.

Both also agreed that though reaching the impending goals will lead to more automation, they do not believe records management officer roles will disappear. But they will change.

Haralampus said she expects to see a rise in chief data, records, and privacy officers (among others) going forward because each one of the disciplines has a critical need.

“You need to know what you have, how long to keep it and who can access and control that data,” she said. “So that function is going to remain beyond 2022 and what I see, as it comes together, is that the role of records manager doesn’t disappear, it has to become elevated because all of that needs to happen by information professionals, and not be an afterthought.”