NARA to shed more light on paper records phase-out through updated guidance

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The National Archives and Records Administration caused a stir in the records management community this summer when it set deadlines for agencies to digitize their historic, permanent records before the end of 2022.

The memo, also issued by the Office of Management and Budget, also prohibits agencies from running their own on-premise record centers past December 2022. NARA will also not accept paper records past that date.

But aside from setting the deadline, NARA officials said Thursday at FCW’s electronic records management conference that updated guidance will soon give agencies a better idea of what to expect from the transition from paper to digital records.

Arian Ravanbakhsh, a supervisory records management policy analyst with NARA’s Office of the Chief Records Officer, said the memo sets “bold goals” for agencies.

While this modernization effort will require NARA and agency records to overhaul the way they do business, he said it’s a necessary change.

“This is what I believe our customers expect from us and frankly, it’s something we need to do at NARA to maintain our relevance as the National Archives,” he said. “We can no longer overextend ourselves by supporting dual processes for analog and electronic records. We need to focus our resources and attention on making the transition to electronic records. Towards that goal, we have set a clear marker for change, which is often necessary if we want to see the change happen.”

In doing so, NARA has opened the door to emerging technology like automation, which Ravanbakhsh said would take records management to “another level.”

In the months since the memo was released, NARA officials have gotten feedback and questions from agencies about the rollout. Based on that feedback, Ravanbakhsh said NARA expects to release supplemental guidance in the first quarter of calendar year 2020.

The updated guidance, he said, would also shed more light on what options agencies will have once they shut down their own records centers.

Courtney Anderson, the senior electronic records policy analyst at NARA, said that upcoming guidance will give agencies a better picture of what they’ll need to focus on in the coming years.

“NARA does a good job of telling agencies what they need to do with the policies that we issue: the guidance documents, all the bulletins. But agencies really need more help with the ‘how’ — how to actually manage their electronic records,” Anderson said.

Later this fiscal year, NARA will finish its work on “use cases” that walk agencies through how to manage certain types of records. Anderson said so far, NARA has released use cases for electronic records, social media messages and transferring permanent records to NARA.

“These really walk through the step-by-step process of how that is done. Agencies can use these when they’re evaluating solutions from vendors, and vendors can show through demos how they’re actually meeting the requirements that are in the use cases,” Anderson said.

To make the agency acquisition of record-keeping services easier, NARA, through its Federal Electronic Records Modernization Initiative (FERMI), has partnered with the General Services Administration to move toward a shared services model for records management.

“Every agency needs tools to manage their electronic records, so we shouldn’t be going out and buying these on our own, but working together through GSA to be able to purchase them at a higher level together,” Anderson said.

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