Survey: Only One-Third of Agencies Are Sending NARA Electronic Records

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Many are still relying on manual processes, the survey found.

Many federal agencies could be at risk of not meeting National Archives and Records Administration’s mandate to manage (and eventually send NARA) all records electronically by December 2019, according to a survey.

An overreliance on manual processes and fallible end-users paired with a lack of manpower and implemented automation are driving that risk according to a survey of 150 government decision-makers released Thursday by AvePoint Public Sector and custom research firm Market Connections.

The survey found that while 93 percent of respondents were “very confident” or “somewhat confident” their agencies are managing records to federal standards, a “vast majority” of agencies are not presently sending all their eligible records to NARA. Only 33 transferred all eligible records to NARA in fiscal 2018. The year prior, only 22 percent of agencies transferred eligible electronic records to the administration. Still, 61 percent of respondents rated their agencies’ progress at meeting the December deadline as “good,” or “excellent.”

AvePoint Chief Technology Officer John Peluso told Nextgov that one reason there hasn’t necessarily been a rapid transition is that some agencies still practice legacy processes that involve paper-based records collection and management.

“There are plenty of federal agencies that, in order to capture an email and send it to NARA as a permanent record, will literally print out that email, put it in a box and send it to NARA because that’s the way their management practices have been running,” Peluso said. “So they are having to rethink all of their records management and that is a big disruption.”

Agencies’ reasons for not yet transferring all records to NARA include that it’s too many records and not enough manpower (42 percent), budget or lack thereof (16 percent) and that the process has been mismanaged or lacked appropriate oversight (7 percent).

While automation could help alleviate some of the challenges, only 3 percent of agencies use fully automated classification for records and 83 percent continue to involve end users, which AvePoint calls “unreliable.” Essentially, the burden of classification and management should not fall on any random employee that received or accessed the record and automated systems can aid in recognizing and categorizing specific documents.

“The more I can automate about this the better it is,” Peluso said. “And from a compliance standpoint, the more control I can show that I have, the better managed my program is seen as.”

The report suggests that agencies take several steps immediately including moving away from legacy proprietary systems to manage information and working with IT departments to bridge communication gaps and better understand business systems in use and how they generate records.

Peluso weighed in further: “Good document management practices get you ahead of the game, proper automated identification of content as much as possible is a great strategy, and then automating the handling and stages of the records workflow is the third piece,” he said.

He added that NARA’s mandates have been a strong motivator that effectively incentivizes agencies to get where they need to be.

“There’s no doubt that these mandates have been a driver,” he said. “Some agencies are further ahead, some are further behind, but there’s no question that there’s movement across every agency I’ve seen.”