About the National Archives

Prepared remarks of Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero at the annual Records Administration Conference (RACO) in Washington, DC

May 25, 2011

Who is the Archivist?

David S. Ferriero
David S. Ferriero The Archivist of the United States is the head of our agency, appointed by the President of the United States.

The AOTUS Blog


What's an Archivist?

The Archivist was introduced by Julie Reaves of NARA’s Office of the Chief Records Officer.

Thank you, Julie.

I’m pleased to be here this afternoon to speak at my second RACO gathering.

A few stories to give you a sense of how our records are used:

A man walked into a regional center with a letter dated May 1946, recommending his dad for the Bronze Star. The medal had never been awarded, and the son wondered whether this was an oversight or had the recommendation not been approved. Staff at the St. Louis Military Personnel Records Center made this case a priority and found documentation. Through our efforts, it was determined that he was entitled to the Bronze Star. Just two days after his 100th birthday, and 63 years after the recommendation was written, in a ceremony arranged by the National Archives regional office, local Army officials presented Walter Pierce with the Bronze Star.

In Alaska, the granddaughter of an 88-year-old Anchorage resident visited to obtain a certified copy of his 1958 divorce decree. Prior to Alaska statehood in 1959, the U.S. District Court handled divorce cases, so the file was in Federal hands. We quickly found the final decree, and “made her day.” Her grandfather in a nursing home was waiting for proof of his divorce…so he could remarry

One more story, a private researcher at the Archives discovered in declassified U.S. Army records a list of primarily Jewish unclaimed accounts in a Swiss bank totaling more than $20 million. This list provided proof that information about wartime assets in the highly secretive Swiss Banks could be found in records in the National Archives. This discovery led to lawsuits and congressional hearings to force Swiss banks to disclose the assets they received, and to a re-evaluation of Switzerland's neutrality in World War II. It also set off the biggest wave of archival research since Alex Haley's
"Roots" in the mid-1970s.

Your role in government is an essential part of our mission of preserving the records of the past and the present for study and use in the future.

When I spoke to you last year, I talked about some of the challenges that we face in records management. Thanks to you and your continued hard work, we have started to respond to those challenges.

We have made progress in improving the ability of the Federal government to manage its information.  Now, I would like to take just a few minutes to highlight some of that progress.

Earlier this year, we released the results of our 2010 Records Management Self-Assessment. The goal of the annual self-assessment is to determine whether Federal agencies are complying with statutory and regulatory records management requirements.

The responses were not reassuring.

They indicated that 95 percent of those Federal agencies are at high to moderate risk of compromising the integrity, authenticity, and reliability of their records.

They risk improper management and disposition of records. In some cases, they are saving their records but not taking the necessary steps to ensure that they can be retrieved, read, or interpreted.

We believe that the Records Management Self-Assessment serves as a baseline for evaluating records management within the Federal Government.

And it provides a roadmap for its future.

Agencies can use data from the self-assessments to chart their own programs.

We will use survey results in agency inspections. And we will work with the Federal records management community to use data from the self-assessments and inspections in two ways.

First, we will continue to assess the effectiveness of current practices and, second, we will develop strategies for improving the compliance of programs in Federal agencies.

What are some other things that we have completed in the past year?

Last summer, we issued a report on Federal Web 2.0 use and record value. During the writing and research of this report, we received significant responses from agencies that were both interested and willing to participate.

After this report was released, we issued a NARA Bulletin called Guidance on Managing Records in Web 2.0 and Social Media Platforms.

This bulletin reminds Federal departments and agencies of their records management responsibilities. This is especially important as we use social media more and more to conduct government business and to interact with the public.

During the drafting of the bulletin on managing federal records on 2.0 platforms, we met with the Federal Web Manager’s Council. We shared both the study and bulletin and began a dialog about records management of social media. 

The Council provided input to refine the bulletin and recognized the value of continuing discussions between our two groups.

We are also planning a joint meeting between the Federal Records Council and the Federal Web Managers Council to continue the discussion about the importance of records management and building these critical partnerships.

This follows a similar model that was developed for last year’s successful joint Chief Information Officers and Federal Records Council meeting.

Finally, I’d like to highlight what I believe is a significant positive development for Federal records management – a proposal by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management to create a new occupational series for Information Management.

If approved, this proposal would bring together under one occupational umbrella, functions related to records management, FOIA, and the Privacy Act.  In doing so, the new occupational series would elevate the prominence of records and information management across Government, and advance professionalization of these critical career fields.

The National Archives strongly supports this initiative and has been engaged with OPM from the outset, offering our knowledge, expertise, and perspective as a leading agency in Government-wide records and information management.

All of these activities demonstrate the partnerships we are building across the wide spectrum of our stakeholders. These groups, as well as Federal departments and agencies, care about records management. And we are reaching out to them in many different ways for their help, suggestions, and ideas.

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Now, on to the Archivist Achievement Awards.

As I mentioned earlier, last year, I challenged agencies to be more collaborative and to use technology in innovative ways to solve the records management challenges.

A number of the nominees responded to that call, and I’m pleased to be able to provide awards to two agencies.

The first Archivist Achievement Award today goes to the Risk Management Agency, United States Department of Agriculture.

This agency has deployed a Sharepoint electronic recordkeeping solution to more than 500 users in 27 locations around the country.

Their system, called eRMS (Electronic Records Management System), manages the capture, maintenance, categorization, and disposition of electronic records. It is a model that other agencies can follow.

To implement eRMS, USDA completed more than 30 media-neutral schedules to support this system as well as introducing a strong training program with mandatory re-training requirements.

In addition, staff in the agency can file various types of electronic records, including e-mail and instant messages, directly from their desktop.

Finally, they are developing the capacity to move closed and inactive records from other systems into eRMS.

To discuss the system more, I’d like to introduce Erin Tecce, the agency records officer for the Risk Management Agency, USDA, to describe the project.

The Archivist presented the award, and Erin Tecce spoke.

Thank you Erin, and congratulations.

The second Archivist Achievement Award goes to the National Mediation Board.

The National Mediation Board has a mature electronic recordkeeping solution designed for a paperless office called the Corporate Memory System (CMS). For the past six years, all records have been created and maintained in the CMS, no new paper records have been created.

Before the end of this year, they will have no more paper records stored at the Washington National Records Center in Suitland. Filing into CMS is mandatory and they are pushing toward 100 percent compliance.

To help accomplish this, a performance evaluation element for managers includes successful enforcement of staff using the CMS. The retention periods in the system are based on a 2005 big-bucket schedule for all electronic records in the agency and they transferred their first permanent electronic records to NARA back in February.

Accepting on behalf of the National Mediation Board is Daniel Rainey, the Chief of Staff.

The Archivist presented the award, and Daniel Rainey spoke.

Thank you Daniel, and congratulations as well.

Both of these agencies have implemented innovative technological solutions to managing electronic records.

I’m pleased to see their success and hope that it encourages all Federal agencies to continue your work. Who knows? Maybe next year we can recognize your work with an Archives Achievement Award.

Now I’ll turn the panel back over to Julie Reaves.

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