GAO: Most agencies meeting requirements to improve records management

Most agencies are doing a better job of managing their government records, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

Twenty-four agencies had to meet seven requirements to improve records management in response to a 2012 directive from the National Archives and Records Administration and Office of Management and Budget issued back in August 2012.

Valerie Melvin, GAO
“What this directive did was essentially put an emphasis on the fact that there’s a growing amount of information that’s increasingly in an electronic form,” said Valerie Melvin, GAO’s director of information management and technology resources issues. “So the intent here was to develop a set of requirements for agencies to address as far as trying to improve the transparency, the efficiency and accountability of their record keeping, especially in electronic format.”

GAO looked at how well the 24 agencies were addressing the requirements up through December 2014. The seven requirements are:

  • Federal agencies will manage all permanent electronic records in an electronic format (Deadline: Dec. 31, 2019)
  • Agencies will manage both permanent and temporary email records in an accessible electronic format. (Deadline: Nov. 15, 2012)
  • Agencies must designate a senior agency official (SAO) (Deadline: Nov. 15, 2012)
  • SAO shall ensure that permanent records are identified for transfer and reported to NARA (Deadline: Dec. 31 , 2013)
  • Agency records officers must obtain NARA certificate of federal records management training (Deadline: Dec. 31, 2014)
  • Agencies must establish records management training (Deadline: Dec. 31, 2014)
  • SAO shall ensure that records are scheduled (Deadline: Dec. 31, 2014)

Melvin told In Depth with Francis Rose Thursday that while most of the agencies have improved their records management, five agencies have more work to do.

“We found in most instances the agencies had taken the steps necessary to implement the requirements specified,” she said.

Some agencies, though, failed to meet the exact requirements of the directive, even though they may have taken some of the recommended steps laid out in the directive.

For example, all 24 agencies designated senior officials to oversee records management, but two of the agencies didn’t designate the SAO at the assistant secretary level. Another agency failed to reaffirm the SAO by the specified deadline.

“There was some specificity within these designations,” Melvin said. “They had to designate a senior official at a certain level. They had to reaffirm those officials on a yearly basis. I think in one department, because their official didn’t change from year-to-year, they didn’t believe then needed to reaffirm that official. So it was really interpreting what the directive said.”

She added that GAO didn’t find any agency that had blatantly ignored the directive. All were working toward the requirements.

“We did see, in most instances, where they hadn’t met, there was action being taken,” Melvin said. “It was just a matter that they hadn’t met deadlines. They hadn’t gone far enough to take the steps that they needed to be in compliance.”

The directive also gave OMB and the Office of Personnel Management 13 oversight requirements that they needed to fulfill in order to help the other agencies meet their records management goals.

GAO found that OMB and OPM had taken steps toward meeting all of the 11 requirements they needed to complete by December 2014. Action on those requirements is continuing.

One of the requirements for OMB, for example, is to include records management requirements within the OMB Circular A-130, which is currently being revised.

“They haven’t finished revising that circular yet,” Melvin said. “By the nature of where they are, they haven’t put that particular requirement in place yet. This is regarding records management requirements for cloud-based services.”

NARA also had nine specific requirements it had to meet to help other agencies manage their electronic data.

“We did note in a couple of cases, though, where they hadn’t established the timeframes that they needed for having all of the metadata requirements, certain requirements to really explain specifically what type of data it is and how you would use that data,” she said. “And to be able to really locate and manage the data, they needed to have certain requirements specified and they had not fully done that.”

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