Records Web site goes public

The National Archives and Records Administration has made public its prototype of a World Wide Web page that describes federal agencies' records and their plans for preserving them.

Although the application called the Agency Records Disposition Online Resource (ARDOR) is designed primarily as a reference tool for government records managers NARA officials and government watchdog groups said it could potentially help citizens who are trying to find agency information. For the past year the site was restricted to federal agency use only but NARA made it publicly accessible late last month.

William LeFurgy chief of the archival services branch at NARA's Center for Electronic Records said ARDOR (ardor.nara.gov) represents a step toward his agency's goal of obtaining and reviewing federal records information electronically. Ultimately LeFurgy said agencies would submit their records-retention schedules— descriptions of the ir files and how long they plan to keep them— to NARA online and this information would be maintained electronically.

Some agencies already maintain their records schedules electronically for internal and public use but they submit this information to NARA most frequently on paper. NARA maintains this data— the equivalent of 28 file drawers— on microfiche which makes it difficult for anyone to look up the information they want LeFurgy said. ''For the first time [ARDOR] lets someone from the public or an agency to get an overview of what exists'' by for example searching the online files by keyword.

''I think it will be useful for agency records administrators in seeing what has been approved by NARA for other agencies for similar type records '' said Edward Arnold who is in charge of records management policy for the Army.

Irving Wilson records officer with the Treasury Department said he has already used ARDOR to retrieve information he needed about an agency records schedule when he could not reach a colleague on the phone.

To date 39 agencies have provided copies of their records schedules to ARDOR but those submissions are not necessarily current or complete. LeFurgy said NARA will not require anyone to participate in the system and that his agency does not have a timetable for accepting records schedules online routinely.

Michael Tankersley senior staff attorney with the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen and a frequent NARA critic said he thinks NARA is ''ambivalent about their commitment to this as a resource.'' He said ARDOR would be most useful to the public if it includes a complete current listing of agency records schedules.

''Over time all agencies are going to have their records manuals in electronic form even if it's just by virtue of the fact they have to update that information for their employees '' he said. ''NARA ought be making sure they get those documents.''

Arnold thinks ARDOR may not be as useful to the general public as it could be to a gency Freedom of Information Act officers who have to find records that the public requests. By consulting a list of records schedules online ''they'll know more quickly whether they need to do more looking around'' to find the information that requesters want he said.

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