E-Records Forum 2013: NARA’s Directive and New Training Programs

This is the first of a multi-part recap of the 2013 NAGARA E-Records Forum.

Those of you who have been reading this blog for some time may have seen previous articles regarding President Obama’s Memorandum on Records Management and the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA’s) Directive for federal record keeping.  Although these recent developments pertain to federal records management, we at TSLAC want to keep following the progress of the project, as there may be valuable techniques implemented and lessons learned that can be applied to state and local governments as well.  On April 10 at the NAGARA E-Records Forum in Austin, C. Preston Huff of NARA gave two presentations outlining the required goals and the progress made concerning the presidential directive and the training that is being developed for federal government Agency Records Officers.

The expected benefits of the directive are similar to those of any records management program: improved performance and promotion of openness and accountability through documentation of actions and decisions, protection of permanently valuable historical records for future generations to learn from, and assistance in minimizing costs and operating more efficiently.

Photo by Wally Gobetz

The directive sets some very challenging goals: by the end of this year, each federal agency must develop and implement plans to transition into managing all permanent electronic records in an electronic format by 2019.  Agencies will also be considering the advantages of digitizing permanent records created in hard-copy or other analog formats.  Senior Agency Officials will also ensure that permanent records are identified for transfer and reported to NARA, including records that have been in existence for more than 30 years.  Additionally, Senior Agency Officials will work with NARA to identify all unscheduled records for inclusion on retention schedules.

This is a sizable directive with many parts, and so communication is an issue – how do you communicate with everyone, especially when offices are so geographically dispersed?  NARA has an Internal Collaboration Network with a directive-related space for all staff to monitor the progress of the directive.  For the public, there’s the Records Express, the official blog of the Office of the Chief Records Officer of NARA.

One of the most interesting parts of the keynote was the developments in email guidance, which should be available by December 31, 2013.  While the email guidance is still under internal review, Mr. Huff introduced the idea of a “capstone approach” where email would be categorized based on the position and/or the work of the email account owner.  Email of selected officials (mostly officials at or near the top of an agency or an organizational subcomponent and key staff members) would be scheduled as permanent, while all other accounts would be preserved for a set amount of time based on agency needs.  The benefits of such an email policy include the reduction in reliance on user-dependent policies, the optimization of access for information requests, the reduction of unauthorized destruction, and the simplification of disposition.  Mr. Huff was emphatic that this approach is still under review and that it would be optional for federal agencies.

In terms of training provided by NARA, there are 15 staff members in the Training Unit who provide innovative, comprehensive, and cost-effective records management instruction to federal agencies and contractors.  Much of NARA’s training is being offered through online delivery because webinars are more inexpensive and efficient.  There is no cost for travel and one can teach a class to a larger audience.

Another way NARA is communicating information and training is through videos on YouTube.  The videos cover topics such as the 2013 permanent records move, creating and using file plans, and managing content on shared drives.  Since October 1, 2012, these videos have received over 1,700 views – quite impressive considering that they have to compete with videos of cute kittens and sneezing pandas!

Additionally, federal agencies must establish their own records management training by the end of 2014, with methods to inform every employee of their records management responsibilities in regards to laws and policies.  As we have stated before, it is impossible for one person to administer a records management program; you must involve everyone in your government to get the job done.