The challenges of analog document management

Each year, the National Archives and Records Administration publishes its FARM (Federal Agency Records Management) report. The 2017 version, released in August 2018, shows that agencies are mostly on track to meet upcoming records management deadlines that will move government toward a more modern and digitally inclusive state.

Despite their progress, agencies still have room to improve when it comes to managing the lifecycle of their cases. As NARA moves toward a paperless 2022, agencies must take a holistic approach to ensure they have the tools they need to effectively manage their records, with a focus on a plan for their analog records.

The need for a global strategy appears on examination of certain figures in the FARM report. One of the most apparent issues was the speed with which agencies transfer their permanent records (in any format) to NARA. “Even though 96% of agencies said they were aware of the requirement to formally request NARA’s permission to retain permanent records beyond their eligibility for transfer to NARA, there was little or no change in the number of agencies transferring permanent records in any format,” NARA said in the latest FARM report. “Compared to the past two years, the figure remains around 50%. more concerted efforts are needed to ensure permanent files are transferred when eligible.

The report also found that:

  • 50% of agencies transferred non-electronic records to NARA in 2017.
  • 41% of agencies have records 30 years or older that are not stored with NARA, meaning they are kept in offices or facilities.
  • Only 22% of agencies transferred electronic records to NARA in 2017.

As stated by NARA, the overwhelming majority of agencies are aware that they should coordinate with NARA when storing permanent records beyond their original life cycle, but only half – at best – have actually complied with this requirement. If agencies are already struggling to transfer permanent records in any format today, what will happen when they can only submit records to NARA in electronic format?

Electronic transfer is and will remain essential, but another pressing issue is that 46% of agencies indicated that they were required to comply with legal requirements for paper documents for multiple reasons, including the need to have a copy physical for backup, for example. . This statistic, given NARA’s 2022 plan digitization goals, underscores the need for agencies to have a comprehensive plan for digital and paper records.

So what steps should agencies take now to ensure the integrity of their information management capabilities into 2022 and beyond?

Mapping the information landscape

The first step for agencies is to ensure they have a current and accurate inventory of where their information is located and the exact requirements that govern each record. From there, they should categorize these records into the following subcategories:

  • Recordings that must remain in analog format beyond 2022.
  • Files that can be digitized and managed electronically beyond 2022.
  • Records on retention schedules that require disposition before 2022.

These three classifications will help organize the specific action plans that agencies need to include in their overall information management strategy. Records that fall into the latter two categories will either be transferred electronically to NARA after 2022 or will have reached the end of their lifecycle by then. Given NARA’s plan to stop accepting analog recordings after 2022, the real issue is what agencies will do with recordings that fall into the first category?

Establish an analog plan

Agencies should implement their own strategies to manage these analog documents in the most efficient way possible, both financially and operationally. This will require particular attention to implementing better search and tracking capabilities, given that “just under half of agencies said that all records and information were easily retrievable and accessible when needed to agency activities,” according to the 2017 FARM report. NARA acknowledged that this was “an area of ​​concern that warrants monitoring over the next few years.”

When developing these plans, agencies should be aware of underutilized approaches, such as the use of commercial records storage facilities that can function as an alternative to federal NARA archives, before and after 2022. The FARM report found that only 25% of agencies are currently storing inactive temporary and/or permanent records in a commercial record storage facility. Such facilities can help agencies free up time, resources, and valuable physical office and storage space onsite while maintaining full control and access to records when needed. It is quite possible not only to save money, but also to improve check-in operations at the same time. In fact, accessibility is often dramatically improved when documents are moved from agency storage or storage areas, as documents are centralized and subject to rigorous tracking and chain-of-custody requirements. Finally, agencies may be able to leverage cost savings from streamlining analog document management to fund digitization initiatives to prepare for 2022 and further strengthen their overall document governance posture. information.

The FARM report showed that many agencies still have work to do regarding their long-term information management plans, particularly regarding their analog records and NARA’s 2022 digitization goals. To create comprehensive information governance plans that incorporate records management, agency managers need to understand what they have and where, and then develop specific plans for different types of records. Agencies soon need targeted strategies for their paper documents, and managers can’t afford to overlook the cost-savings, accessibility, and compliance benefits of third-party storage.