- By William Matthews
- Mar 19, 2000
In less than four years, federal agencies are supposed to stop using paper.
Government records — from personnel evaluations to benefits applications
to contracts and regulations — are supposed to be created, used and preserved
Picture a government office free of paper clutter. But don't picture
it free of the chores associated with "paperwork."
The electronic office will require a new cadre of government office
workers: records managers. Instead of typing and filing, they will have
to know how to create and maintain electronic records. From recovering lost
or corrupted files to migrating old electronic documents to new formats,
records managers will be responsible for ensuring the integrity of government
data, said National Archives and Records Administration officials.
As NARA sees it, "records management requirements will form the core
of the IT system requirements" of federal agencies.
Lewis Bellardo, deputy archivist of the United States, offers a glimpse
of the future in the records management guidance the he wrote and that is
circulating among agencies preparing to comply with the Government Paperwork
Things taken for granted in the Paper Age will be more complicated.
Consider "usability": A paper document needs to be merely picked up
and read, but an electronic document must be located, retrieved, presented
and interpreted through hardware and software before it is usable.
Trustworthiness and reliability are other concerns with electronic documents.
Records managers must be able to ensure that electronic records are a "full
and accurate representation of the transactions, activities or facts to
which they attest," Bellardo wrote. They will have to control the creation,
transmission and maintenance of records to protect against unauthorized
addition, deletion or alteration. Failure to maintain trustworthy electronic
records will leave agencies vulnerable to lawsuits and could undermine public
confidence in the government, Bellardo warned.
Archives officials turned down requests for additional details on how they
envision the electronic office. But in his records management guidance,
Bellardo said a major responsibility for agencies will be ensuring the authenticity
of electronic documents by preserving digital signatures.
Like ink-on-paper signatures, electronic signatures will be legally binding.
Agencies may be required to keep a whole new set of records, Bellardo said.
These may range from files containing passwords and personal identification
numbers to electronic certificates files. They may also have to store "physical
artifacts" such as smart cards, he said.