Most agencies say they’ll meet year-end records management deadline

Roughly 90 percent of federal agencies say they’ll meet the governmentwide deadline to manage all permanent and temporary email in an accessible, electronic format by Dec. 31, 2016, the National Archives and Records Administration said.

Yet many agencies told NARA it’s unclear how they’ll measure their success and know that they’re compliant with federal records management requirements.

To help answer those questions, NARA will release a new email success criteria document in the coming weeks, Laurence Brewer, interim federal chief records officer and director of NARA’s Records Management Operations Program, said during the Digital Government Institute’s records management conference in Washington March 17.

“This document is meant to help us answer that question, but more importantly, to help agencies with the tools they need to evaluate their own programs, make improvements and identify where the gaps are that they need to apply resources,” Brewer told Federal News Radio.

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The document will summarize current NARA policies and bulletins and will direct agencies to consider four major aspects of their records management work:

  1. Do agencies have the right records management policies in place and are they communicating them properly?
  2. Do they have the IT systems they need to manage and preserve email records?
  3. Are the correct access controls in place to make sure the right people can see the right temporary and permanent emails and documents?
  4. Can agencies transfer permanent records to NARA or get rid of the documents that need to be disposed?

“The requirements and the standards that are in the email success criteria document are not new,” Brewer said. “They track to existing policies and standards that relate to email management, and they’re presented in a way that makes it easy for agencies to grasp it and then figure out how to implement it.”

Jeanette Plante, director of the Office of Records Management Policy at the Justice Department, said she isn’t surprised that 90 percent of agencies say they will comply with the 2016 deadlines in the Managing Government Records directive. She said Justice has already defined compliance success criteria, but it’s an ongoing process.

“We’re talking about how we’re going to comply, are we going to comply,” Plante said. “Compliance is compliance, whether it’s elegantly done or not. The way that we manage it today and by extension, by 2016, and the way that we manage it five years down the road when tools have advanced, when our own understanding of the issues has evolved, will be much more sophisticated.”

Though NARA is encouraged that most agencies feel confident they’ll meet the standards in the Managing Government Records directive, Brewer said there are still some challenge areas.

Agencies are not consistently using cloud-based environments for managing and storing their records, he said.

Forty-one agencies still allow employees to use their personal email accounts, but nearly all of those organizations have policies that are currently getting an update.

And about half of agencies say their records officers are performing their records management duties on a part-time basis. Brewer said elevating the role of an agency’s chief records officer is one of NARA’s goals this year.

“This is very significant and is something we’ve tried to rectify, and I know we’re in the beginning of the process with the new professional series,” Brewer said.

From the Government Accountability Office’s perspective, agencies’ main challenges in meeting records management requirements lie in technology pieces, said Anjalique Lawrence, assistant director for information management and technology issues at GAO.

NARA is also working with the Partnership with Public Service on new tools and guidance to teach career and political leaders about records management and to ensure that departing senior executives don’t take documents and records with them when they leave, Brewer said.

About 80 percent of agencies said they were preparing for the upcoming presidential transition — a point that Brewer said isn’t necessarily concerning but acknowledged still needs more attention.

Agencies are also beginning to make some progress in using Capstone, NARA’s email management approach. Roughly 54 percent of agencies said they are using or will use Capstone, while 29 percent are investigating their options, 15 percent are submitting a schedule to NARA and 2 percent said they aren’t sure what approach they will use, Brewer said.

NARA will have a busy year updating other directives to more modern language. It will also refresh its records management training programs and will add a new certificate track specifically for program managers.

“This is a beginning,” he said. “This is not the end. We fully expect that agencies will be managing their email electronically after 2016, that we will continue to be working with agencies and you will continue to work with your IT program, your CIO shops, your records managers on managing permanent electronic records.”

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