DOD crafts rules for electronic records

The Defense Department has released a final draft version of functional requirements for records-management software that within months could become official DOD policy and a governmentwide standard requiring federal agencies to store official electronic files and electronic mail.

The Feb. 14 draft outlines baseline requirements for Records Management Application software that will direct agencies to store retrieve transfer or destroy official records including e-mail correspondence. DOD plans this summer to test at Fort Huachuca Ariz. whether certain commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software meets these requirements said Chuck Arnason senior policy analyst with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (OASD) for Command Control Communications and Intelligence.

Arnason said the policy was a result of DOD's examination of its entire records-management system which began three years ago.

The need for strict records-management policy became apparent in Congress' high-profile investigation into Gulf War Syndrome a debilitating illness affecting some soldiers who fought in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Numerous investigations into the cause of the illness required DOD officials to produce millions of records from Operation Desert Storm.

But "we found a lot of gaps " Arnason said. "We're not hiding [electronic documents] people just didn't manage it and they destroyed that information."

Senior DOD leadership has admitted that "we don't do records management well " Arnason said. "We learned in Desert Storm that we had a lot of information in the battlefield. We don't send records managers into battle."

The software standards should be approved as official policy within a few months said Burt Newlin a computer specialist in OASD C3I who is overseeing the project to develop the requirements. A DOD records-management directive now being revised will include the requirements he said.

That directive which includes broader definitions of electronic records will classify e-mail as an official record if the message is related to official business Newlin said. It also will require that e-mail be archived in its original form so that it cannot be tampered with after its transmission.

DOD requires the Records Management Application to perform the following functions:

* Assign a unique computer-generated record identifier to each record DOD manages.

* Provide a repository for records and prevent unauthorized access to or alteration of records.

* Allow stored record categories to be screened viewed and searched based on record profiles.

* Identify records that are eligible for transfer to the National Archives and Records Administration or elsewhere.

* Prompt users when a document is eligible for destruction and destroy those that are approved for destruction.

* Allow e-mail to be captured and stored in the same manner as all other official records.

No COTS electronic information system software now in use by federal agencies satisfies all agency requirements for electronic recordkeeping said J. Timothy Sprehe of Sprehe Information Management Associates Inc.

Electronic document management systems do not possess the necessary functionality for keeping records appropriately Sprehe wrote in a January International Data Corp. government report.

Because the electronic recordkeeping policy of most federal agencies entails printing out hard copies of documents to save in paper form Sprehe said the DOD standard will most likely be adopted - or adapted to their specific needs - by other federal agencies.

Soon all agencies may be forced to formulate some type of electronic records-management policy if a coalition of public-interest groups historians and researchers wins its lawsuit against the Archivist of the United States and the White House.

In the suit filed in December the coalition argues that the electronic form of records has unique value because the records and the information they contain can be searched manipulated and stored in ways that paper records cannot. If the group is successful all executive branch agencies must begin managing records electronically [FCW Jan. 20].

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