Federal Paperless Directive: The Clock is Ticking – How are You Doing?

Way back in 2014 this blog dipped its toe into discussing the then-recent Presidential Directive M-12-18 with FAQ: Will the paperless directive for federal agencies have an impact on state or local recordkeeping?. The Directive introduced a requirement for all executive agencies to move away from paper recordkeeping and toward a digital framework of electronic permanent records, including email, by December 31, 2019. With the expectation that all executive agencies, no matter any restrictions including security classification, would work to eliminate paper and use electronic recordkeeping, two specific goals were outlined:

  • Goal 1: Require Electronic Recordkeeping to Ensure Transparency, Efficiency, and Accountability
  • Goal 2: Demonstrate Compliance with Federal Records Management Statutes and Regulations

Successfully meeting these goals are best practices any organization would want to achieve—let alone the federal government.

In the 2014 article, we calmed fears that these requirements were also expectations for state and local governments; they are not. They are, however, goals to aspire to with your records program and, in some ways, mimic what you’ve already done!

So how are you doing?

Let’s break down Goal 1 as it directly correlates to becoming paperless or, as many affectionately refer to it, paperLESS.

Goal 1: Require Electronic Recordkeeping to Ensure Transparency, Efficiency, and Accountability

As government entities, to help the public we serve, we are expected to operate in a transparent way that assigns accountability appropriately. It goes without saying, yet sometimes is said very boldly, that we need to be efficient in every way thus allowing us to serve the maximum amount of people quickly and effectively.

Are you engaging in electronic recordkeeping?

Managing records electronically will equal money saved on physical storage costs since they won’t be taking up physical space. Additionally, with electronic records it’s oftentimes easier to implement indexing, apply metadata and incorporate other organizational tactics making the records locate-ready.

Take your cue from the Directive and break up the transition process into micro-goals with a timeline, all underscored by a plan:

  • Create an implementation plan for achieving your electronic recordkeeping goals (see NARA resources below).
  • Assess the amount and type of records you want to maintain electronically.
    • Consider the status and long-term viability of records (especially permanent) in an analog format (e.g., microfiche, microfilm, analog video, analog audio).
  • Set timeframes and expectations for when each stage will be completed.
    • December 31, 2013: Design/Implement transition plan
    • December 31, 2016: All email records must be maintained electronically an example, from the Directive:
    • December 31, 2019: All permanent electronic records must be maintained electronically

Remember to keep in mind:

  • Not all records need to be maintained electronically.
    • For example, you do not want to spend the time and money digitizing records that have already met retention; initiate disposition procedures for those records and focus on those with a longer retention period!
  • There are rules regarding electronic records management laid out in Bulletin 1 and Bulletin B.

Directive Updates

Since the Directive’s release NARA has taken actions to assist federal agencies in meeting these goals by the established timeline. Use them in your own digitization and electronic recordkeeping project!

Federal Electronic Records Modernization Initiative (FERMI)

Much like the local governments and state agencies of Texas, the federal government is made up of agencies with differing missions, structures, and resources, but they all share needs for managing their electronic records.

Use this resource to find out how your entity’s records management core requirements compare to federal agencies and adapt NARA’s supplied solutions and services for your  needs .

Success Criteria for Managing Email Records

This memorandum was released by NARA to provide clarification regarding the email management portion of the Directive and assistance to agencies to meet the established December 2016 deadline.

NARA’s intention was for agencies to use the memo internally to evaluate progress toward the Directive goals; you should use it similarly.

Success Criteria for Managing Permanent Electronic Records

The most recently-released of the NARA guidance, they report that there is progress being made with electronic recordkeeping among federal agencies. Use this resource to learn about the macro-level view of key areas of the Criteria on which federal agencies should focus in order to be successful and determine if the same applies for your government.

This memo also contains universal —read: applicable to your entity— records management requirements for ensuring successful management of electronic records across their life cycle.


Sound off in the comments below and let us and out subscribers know how you’ve used the Directive and NARA’s guidance to invigorate and improve your electronic recordkeeping.

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