Letters to the Editor

NARA is coping

Thank you for publishing the recent article "NARA must learn to cope electronically" [FCW, May 31]. We agree with concerns raised by the author, Timothy Sprehe, which is why we are undertaking initiatives he described and others.

Most FCW readers know that we have produced new guidance for federal agencies on scheduling records formerly covered by General Records Schedule 20; that we participated in developing and have endorsed the Defense Department standard on design criteria for electronic records management; that we are now reviewing DOD's certification process; and that we are working with DOD and other agencies on other projects of potential value to government agencies in dealing with electronic records.

Additionally, we have prepared for the business process re-engineering for how government records are scheduled and appraised. But also we have launched a "Fast Track Guidance Development Project" to identify best practices currently available and to provide guidance quickly on electronic records issues that urgently confront federal recordkeepers now. And we have laid the groundwork for our new Targeted Assistance Program, in which we focus on helping those agencies that have the more urgent records management needs. The administration and Congress have given us funds for increasing records management staff, in Washington and in the regions, and we are stressing the need for electronic records management expertise in staff recruitment. We are now asking Congress for additional funds, requested by the administration, to build on our electronic records and records management initiatives.

We agree with Mr. Sprehe that some of our initiatives "could cause a cultural revolution at NARA." We are dedicated to doing what it takes to meet the challenges of modern, especially electronic, records. We further agree with Mr. Sprehe that "today's records management realities are too big for NARA to handle alone." Partnership is required. And instead of feeling "cool" toward the new Federal Interagency Records Management Council, we see FIRM as a real partner who can pull together the views of agency records managers, which will help us with our new BPR, among other initiatives.

Michael L. MillerDirectorModern Records Program, NARACollege Park, Md.

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On personal-use policy

I've been a reader of Bureaucratus for years and find his columns nearly always informative and often entertaining. Seldom do I disagree with him, but I must dispute his views on the potential "disaster" that may result from allowing limited personal use of office computers and other office resources ["Personal-use policy a recipe for disaster," FCW, May 24].

As Bureaucratus himself noted, people have for years made limited personal use of office photocopiers, telephones and other equipment. Despite prohibitions, people still did it. Far from stopping such practices, past rules have only created a huge class of scofflaws. People simply will do those things, rules or not. Worse, successful flouting of these picayune prohibitions may incite further rule bending or outright violation, causing more problems in the long run than those engendered by allowing limited personal use of office equipment.

Would Bureaucratus deny parents the privilege of briefly using their office phone to check on the well-being of family members, or to make a medical appointment or consult with their physician, or to make an appointment for an employment interview after having been downsized out of a job (or threatened with it)? That would seem pretty heartless. Besides, forcing employees to leave their work area to go use a pay phone, assuming one is nearby, has been recognized as more disruptive to work than allowing brief nonofficial calls from a worker's desk.

If we allow reasonable, short-duration use of office telephones for personal purposes, why not other equipment? E-mail, for instance, is in many cases replacing phone use. Regardless of the technology used, the underlying premise should remain constant.

Many private companies have long recognized the morale-boosting effect of allowing employees to use office computers for personal purposes, as long as it doesn't disrupt work. This enables workers to more easily keep in touch with distant family members, work on after-hours college assignments and pursue other productive activities that may in the long run benefit the employer.

As for monitoring employee use, it doesn't take a co-worker or supervisor looking over your shoulder to determine whether an employee has exceeded reasonable use of computers. From a technical perspective, often it isn't difficult to determine roughly how long someone spent on personal e-mails or if they visited an Internet site that exceeds the bounds of propriety. Monitoring tools can note improper behavior and alert managers accordingly.

I agree with Bureaucratus that rules need to be clearly defined. And employees need to be informed - emphatically and repeatedly - that they have no right to personal privacy when using government computers. After all, these systems were put in place to enhance federal operations, and personal use is just a fringe benefit. Employees shouldn't put any personal information on their office computer or in an office-based e-mail that they wouldn't like seeing on the front page of a newspaper.

Bureaucratus closed his article by calling the new standard "well-intentioned but unworkable." I say it is no more unworkable than the old rule. In fact, given the good sense and honorable motives of most federal employees, this has a greater chance of succeeding.

Harlan CrouseAgriculture DepartmentFort Collins, Colo.

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