National Archives plans to move to electronic records management for government

The transition will be fully effective by 2022, the director of archives said.

As federal agencies seek to consolidate data centers and move more of what they do to the cloud, they must also consider record-keeping regulations on how to store this information at long term. The National Archives and Records Administration is currently putting tools in place to transition the federal government from analog records to electronic records within a few years.

The transition has been underway since 2011 from a presidential term followed by directives from Congress in 2012, archives manager Laurence Brewer said in a May 6 webinar. One of the most significant steps toward electronic records management occurred last year, when NARA began managing all government electronic records in an electronic format. Previously, managing electronic records, such as e-mail, involved printing copies of those records and storing them in analog form in the federal archives.

By the end of this year, NARA will have policies and procedures in place to support fully electronic recordkeeping at the federal level, including how to store analog records digitally. The current pandemic has not slowed NARA’s progress towards this goal, but rather underscored the importance of moving to electronic document management.

“As we all work from home, we see the benefits of what electronic records can do,” Brewer said.

The massive shift to remote work has prompted several agencies to contact NARA about case management during the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, the agency posted an FAQ on April 23 explaining how to keep records while teleworking. Brewer added that NARA maintains a roster of appraisal archivists who are experts in records management for specific agencies, who can help with particular challenges.

Brewer said the biggest transformation will come in 2022, when agencies will have to manage all of their records electronically, and NARA will only accept electronic records with the proper metadata. By 2022, NARA will also require agencies to close agency-run archives, transferring inactive records to either federal archives or commercially operated ones. At this point, all new records will either be stored in commercial facilities or in electronic form.

Brewer explained the importance of having mandates to drive this process. NARA itself is a small agency that cannot support the long-term preservation of analog and electronic records, he said. This mandate compels NARA to explore innovative solutions across the federal government.

“If we don’t have those mandates,” Brewer said, “we won’t be able to fund the change that needs to happen.”

The agency expects resourcing to be just one of the challenges it will face in the future. Brewer mentioned that he is still working on how to preserve old records while at the same time planning for the growing volume and complexity of future electronic records management. Across government, it will also need to modernize digital infrastructure to facilitate electronic document management while working to gain buy-in from agency leaders to make the transition.

In the near future, NARA will communicate with agency records management professionals, including those working in IT, FOIA, and legal offices, while collaborating to develop cross-agency tools and solutions. It has partnered with the GSA to develop standards for commercial vendors under GSA Schedule 36 and is working with the OPM to revise job classification standards to incorporate skills and qualifications into electronic records management.

Additionally, NARA will develop regulatory standards for temporary and permanent records, after completing work on developing universal standards and use cases for electronic records management.

“Stay tuned,” Brewer said. “There are a lot of things coming from NARA shortly.”