Federal records officers see need for automation, collaboration across agencies

The Federal Records Officers Network is a self-organized community that looks to lead on federal records issues, like digitization.

When Ron Swecker took on the role of records officer at the Department of Transportation in 2012, he had little background in records and information management.

Swecker had managed information systems and worked on several e-gov initiatives. But in order to learn more about his new role, he attended trainings offered through the National Archives and Records Administration, as well as industry conferences and seminars on records management.

After meeting other records specialists at other agencies, Swecker and his colleagues realized they lacked a central community where they could discuss best practices, training, and more about the federal records management profession. So they decided to start one.

The first meeting of the Federal Records Officers Network, or the FRON, occurred in June 2013 with about 15 members. Today, the FRON has approximately 350 members from across federal agencies and the military departments.

“We’ve grown considerably over that time and continue as the word gets out,” Swecker said. Swecker is now a records and information program manager at the Securities and Exchange Commission. He’s also co-chairman of the FRON.

The goal of the group is to advance the records and information management profession. The network offers training and mentorship opportunities, while also providing a venue to share best practices and feedback on federal recordkeeping issues. Membership in the FRON is open to anyone with a .gov or .mil email address.

As the FRON has grown over the last decade, agencies have also been grappling with the transition away from paper to fully electronic recordkeeping, with records officers and management specialists at the vanguard of that push. Agencies now have a deadline of June 2024 for when NARA will stop accepting permanent records that aren’t digital.

“The records management community . . . has the same challenges that every other area within the federal government has,” Swecker said. “And those are budgetary constraints. So I hear a lot of, we just don’t have the budget to move fast enough or to meet specific deadlines. So that has always been a challenge.”

As federal records management becomes a digital endeavor, FRON sees the need for agencies to shift toward “multidisciplinary” records and information management teams that include traditional records specialists and IT personnel with a background in information management, Swecker said.

The FRON is also working with members of the federal Chief Data Officers Council, as requirements for electronic recordkeeping, such as metadata standards, and CDO responsibilities increasingly overlap.

“I think that collective effort is what’s necessary to move forward,” Swecker said.

“We need to move on beyond just digitization and provide automation into the processes themselves,” he continued. “And in managing those records. I think that’s where the convergence of the traditional records and information management discipline comes together with other disciplines like data management. We all have to work collaboratively to be able to automate as much of the processes and managing records as possible. I think that’s going to be the greater challenge. And that’s going to certainly take some time, but that’s the direction that everyone seems to be moving towards.”

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