National Archives prepares to ramp up work in new federal records system

The new system, nearly a decade in the making, is crucial to agencies managing an ever-growing store of digital records.

The National Archives and Records Administration is addressing bugs and user experience kinks in its new system for managing electronic records, and NARA plans to allow agencies to begin using the system more widely later this month.

In a memo to federal records management offices today, U.S. Chief Records Officer Laurence Brewer writes that the Electronic Record Archive (ERA) 2.0 system will be available to agencies for records scheduling starting on Sept. 18.

“Since June, ERA 2.0 has been available for agencies to submit transfer requests,” Brewer writes. “Now, the system will have full functionality for records scheduling. The majority of previous ERA data, including records schedules and transfer requests, has been migrated into the system. All previously existing user roles have also been migrated.”

Brewer also points agencies to new training materials as well as an “agency checklist for ERA 2.0 launch” and other preparatory resources.

ERA 2.0 has been nearly a decade in the making. The modernization project replaces the government’s legacy electronic records system with better user functionality, a more modular design, and cloud-based tools. The system is comprised of a processing environment, a digital repository, and sets of forms that allow agencies to schedule federal records and transfer permanent records to NARA.

The functioning of the ERA 2.0 system is crucial as agencies struggle to manage a vast and growing set of digital records. Agencies are attempting to move away from managing paper records ahead of a June 30, 2024, digitization deadline. 

NARA began allowing agency users to test out ERA 2.0 use in mid-April, with transfer requests beginning over the summer.

David Lake, program manager for ERA, said NARA is preparing for activity in the system to begin ramping up.

“We’ve worked on some tweaks to performance of the system recently, and anecdotally, we’re seeing that that’s improved the user experience” Lake said at the Aug. 15 meeting of the Bimonthly Records and Information Discussion Group (BRIDG). “That said we know there are a number of issues that we’re still working related to the system, whether universal issues for all users or certain situations with certain agencies, that we continue to work.”

Sam McClure, electronic records program director, said NARA is working to address data migration issues and other challenges that have prevented some record forms from being transferred to the new ERA 2.0 system so far.

“We are working with our development vendor on correction activities,” McClure said. “There are a variety of errors that prevented the correct data migration. We’ll have a variety of solutions to address those errors. That work to start correcting the errors and migrating the forms in and get them to their correct status with the correct information, we’ll be starting very soon.”

“By the time of our next BRDG update, we’ll have a very different story to tell,” McClure added.

Social media records management

Meanwhile, NARA is also wrapping up a records management assessment involving 10 agencies and their practices around managing social media records. During the BRIDG meeting, Brewer said a report on the social media assessment will be issued sometime in September.

“It covers a lot of things which I know agencies are struggling with and looking for best practices and recommendations,” Brewer said.

Brewer didn’t mention whether NARA was considering updates or addendums to its 2013 guidance on managing social media records. The decade-old policy directs agencies to ensure they have capabilities in place to identify and retrieve anything that constitutes a federal record on social media platforms.

“Agencies should be aware that a social media provider could discontinue their service or delete information from an agency’s account,” the guidance states. “Additionally, agencies may stop using a social media platform at any time. In either situation, the agency is not relieved of its records management and possible capture obligations.”

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