Press/Journalists
Press Release
November 30, 1998
National Archives Reports Electronic Records Actions

College Park, MD. . . Steps to help the Federal Government manage electronic records are described in a report filed in Federal court today by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

NARA filed the report with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The report describes actions being taken to develop alternatives to the government's use of General Records Schedule 20, which the Court declared null and void in October 1997. Archivist of the United States John Carlin reported to the Court that NARA has taken the following actions to implement a plan he announced on September 21.

  • NARA produced a draft NARA bulletin to guide agencies in working with NARA on scheduling how long to keep electronic copies of records of their program activities and certain administrative functions formerly covered by GRS 20;
  • NARA cooperated with the Office of Management and Budget to solicit agency comment on the bulletin, which OMB sent to chief information officers and NARA sent to agency heads and records officers;
  • NARA published a Federal Register notice requesting public comment on proposed changes to general records schedules that authorize the disposal of certain administrative records, regardless of physical format; NARA began preparing a revised version in response to comment;
  • NARA began preparation of a new general records schedule for certain administrative records documenting the management of information technology

The new actions, as the report also informed the court, are part of NARA's broader, overall effort to help the government develop "standards and techniques for electronic records creation, preservation, and access in the context of proper recordkeeping practices." NARA has adopted a three-pronged approach to dealing with electronic records issues: a series of partnerships with Federal agencies and others to resolve specific technical issues; establishment of a new interagency group to begin the development of needed electronic records guidance, and a business-process re-engineering study to update certain internal processes in government records management.

NARA's partnerships with Federal agencies are on projects such as the following:

  • NARA is working with the Department of Defense on functional requirements for records management application software, on the certification process for testing whether particular software products meet those requirements, and on electronic imaging standards; NARA has endorsed a minimum set of requirements for electronic records management software applications, embodied in a standard developed by DoD;
  • NARA is working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to use the power of supercomputers to test records life-cycle management solutions for large quantities of data;
  • NARA is working with the Army Research Laboratory on tools available to process office automation records.
  • Additionally, NARA is preparing for a business process re-design of how Federal records overall are identified, appraised, scheduled, and tracked while in agency custody. The project will assess the applicability in the electronic age of fundamental records management and archival practices, and it will deal with such questions as how to appraise records that exist in multiple media or formats, how changing technical capabilities affect the appraisal process, what other approaches to appraising Federal records might be appropriate, and what role electronic access plays in the appraisal process. Moreover, Archivist Carlin is preparing to create a new interagency electronic records work group to follow up on work begun by the group he created last year to advise him on alternatives to GRS 20.

    The Congress and the President recently gave new impetus to NARA's work on electronic records by approving a substantial budget increase for NARA for Fiscal Year 1999. Among other things, the money will enable NARA to do the following:

  • expand NARA's staff to provide targeted assistance to agencies identified as having particularly critical needs in managing their electronic records among others;
  • expand NARA's capacity to preserve electronic records, both in quantity and type.

In developing his plans, Archivist Carlin called electronic records "an unprecedented challenge to archivists and records managers" because of "the vulnerability of such records to erasure, media instability, and technological obsolescence, compounded by their mushrooming quantities in multiple formats." Nonetheless, he said, "our democracy, in which open and accountable government depends on open and accessible records, in the electronic era as in any other, cannot afford the loss of a generation of documentation. Nor can our history. We must prevent such loss, and NARA is working aggressively to see that we succeed in doing so."

For additional PRESS information, please contact the National Archives Public Affairs staff at (301) 837-1700 or by e-mail.

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