Sprehe: Embracing data

New Air Force information management policy is a step toward preserving institutional memory

The Air Force has issued a broad new policy directive on information management that could be the implementing mechanism for the Defense Department’s network-centric data strategy.

Air Force Policy Directive 33-3: Information Management stipulates that the Air Force will manage all information as assets according to life cycle principles. Information asset management (IAM) combines data management, document and records management, workflow, and multimedia and publications management into one discipline.

Timothy Sprehe The Air Force was motivated to adopt IAM after realizing that it was creating digital landfills. The idea that storage is cheap and that we should save everything has produced more than 7 petabytes of Air Force data stored at an annual cost that exceeds $400 million. The service retrieves only a small percentage of that data once it is stored. It recognized that the save-everything mentality could mean housing an ever-bigger stream of data inside an expensive rathole.

IAM is a policy framework for creating, maintaining, accessing and disposing of information assets, with a particular focus on the use of those assets to support warfighters. According to the policy, someone must specify, at the point the data is created,  how long the data will be kept and how it will be disposed of. Both specifications are necessary, whether or not the data is an official record. If nothing else, IAM should make Air Force records managers’ jobs much easier.

As in a net-centric data strategy, IAM also places a strong emphasis on metadata as a mechanism for discovering and retrieving information. The service’s chief information officer’s office has made significant progress in automated metadata tagging. The creation and registering of metadata could soon become a function of software and expert systems rather than human intervention.

The CIO’s office has an enterprisewide implementation plan for IAM that should be in place in the coming months. And that plan could be a model for how DOD implements its net-centric data strategy issued in 2003. Other military services and components like the IAM approach, and their interest would be welcome. The DOD net-centric data strategy has languished as a theory without a viable practice.

The Air Force IAM strategy is fundamentally sound. The Paperwork Reduction Act of 1980, a foundation for federal information policy and the basis of Office of Management and Budget Circular A-130, establishes that information is a valuable resource, and agencies should manage it according to life cycle principles.

In formulating IAM, the Air Force has grounded itself in this thinking and has reinvented the Paperwork Reduction Act in a 21st-century context. The terms differ slightly from the information resources management language of 25 years ago, but the principles are identical.

Sprehe is president of Sprehe Information Management Associates in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at jtsprehe@jtsprehe.com.

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group