Don't round file e-records plans

It is easy to be cheered by this month's appeals court decision that allows agencies to continue to keep records on paper. Like any complex information technology project, deploying electronic records management systems requires substantial planning and investment to do well.

ERM software is not as good now as it promises to be. There are so many questions about how to mesh ERM with current business practices that more time to consider them is welcome.

But the ruling also makes it too easy to move ERM to the back burner. Recordkeeping is still poorly understood by most IT managers, and agencies always have tended to give it low priority.

Even in the Defense Department, which has made a compelling business case for maintaining records electronically, not all DOD agencies will have the money in their budgets next year to meet the departmentwide mandate to install ERM systems.

Faced with a choice between, say, installing new firewalls to deter hackers or ERM systems to secure their records internally, cash-strapped IT departments will find it easier to budget for the technology that is easily explained and keeps their agencies off the evening news.

Just ask the chief information officers trying to eliminate stovepipes with agencywide IT architectures how hard it is to get money for long-term programs even when they have the force of law behind them, such as the Clinger-Cohen Act.

If agencies focus on the short term, agencies and the public they serve lose equally. Agencies will not have a comprehensive, accurate record of their decisions to guide policy-makers and settle legal disputes. And the American people will be deprived of their history.

Progress in managing electronic records now rests on good faith, and only time will tell whether that faith will be enough.

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