A new one-stop shop for electronic records management tools is designed to help agencies keep up with the looming governmentwide goal of going paperless.
For years, the federal government has been pushing an electronic approach to agency records management. During the Obama administration and continuing under President Donald Trump, the National Archives and Records Administration has been issuing policy requirements to get agencies to preserve and store electronic records in their original format, shift to electronic-only email record management and get away from the print-and-file approach. Last August, in its draft strategic plan, NARA announced it planned to set a hard deadline of Dec. 31, 2022, after which it would only accept records transfers in electronic format with appropriate metadata.
In order to help this process along, NARA is playing a new role, helping to connect agencies with vendors that supply electronic records management tools that can overlay existing agency software and productivity tools to automate much of the agency archival function. On the policy side, NARA rolled out a set of universal electronic records management requirements as part of the Federal Electronic Records Modernization Initiative that went live over the summer.
On the procurement side, NARA partnered with the General Services Administration to put together a list of approved electronic records management solutions for agencies looking for technical solutions to ERM challenges.
The goal was to answer questions from agencies that wanted tools and resources to manage electronic records, Laurence Brewer, chief records officer at NARA, told FCW. "This is our attempt to do that."
Brewer said that initially NARA looked at GSA's Schedule 70, which supports billions annually in IT spending, but that the fit was wrong. In the end, NARA put its offering on Schedule 36.
"Schedule 36 traditionally has been where office management has been. If you needed boxed up records and sent them off to a records center, it was very paper‑based and traditional," Brewer said.
Together, GSA and NARA developed Special Item Number 51 600 for ERM. Vendors self-certify that they can fulfill the NARA's ERM requirements to get on the SIN listing. Agencies with ERM needs can review the offerings and make buying decisions. There are currently 43 approved vendors on the SIN.
On the GSA side of the equation, the new offering represents a modernization of Schedule 36.
The ERM offering "was a natural evolution in the process of managing federal records," said
Jeffery Calhoun, branch chief for the Multiple Award Schedule, Integrated Workplace Acquisition Center at GSA. "Schedule 36 has always contained a records management component; however, the legacy offering was more closely associated with the managing of physical records."
Brewer said that the new acquisition strategy is possible largely because of "maturity in the private sector" when it comes to innovative ERM solutions. He also credited administration support with allowing NARA to keep pushing on its ultimate goal of fully electronic recordkeeping.
On the supply end, NARA and GSA are working with vendors to come up with video demos, use cases and other tools to communicate the ERM offering to agencies. Convincing agencies to spend money on new ERM solution is challenging, however.
"I think the harder part is … working with the demand side within the agency," Brewer said. "That's where resources become an issue, and there should be a lot of discussions at, I would hope, senior levels in agencies, at the levels of CIOs."
Brewer is hitting the tech conference circuit to publicize his offering and make the case for modernizing records management.
"It takes time to build that kind of momentum. Nobody wants to be on the bleeding edge, but I think there's a lot of interest within the vendor community on figuring out how to market their products to the agencies to support this," he said.
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