Archives gives in to e-records

Paper is crushed. The National Archives has declared the dominance of electronic documents.

"The reality at the end of the 20th century is that most records are created electronically," said John Carlin, archivist of the United States. And that means the National Archives and Records Administration, the nation's official recordkeeper, must rethink how it manages, stores and disposes of federal records.

Carlin plans an 18-month review that may "reinvent the policies and process for scheduling" federal records. He said the result may be "significant changes to NARA statutes, regulations and guidance relating to records management." In an announcement on the Archives' World wide Web site (, Carlin said that NARA "has failed to make many of these decisions in the past."

A key part of the project will be assessing the feasibility of building an automated system for inventorying and scheduling federal records. Scheduling means deciding which records must be saved and for how long.

NARA is deluged by billions of records created by the federal government each year, Carlin said. The agency needs an automated system to identify records, review their contents and assure that valuable records are not discarded, he said.

Embracing electronic documents represents something of a reversal for Carlin. In 1995, Carlin provoked an outcry and multiple lawsuits when he told agencies they could destroy certain electronic records if they saved paper copies.

Carlin was sued and lost, then appealed and won. Finally, the Supreme Court this month sided with Carlin by refusing to hear another appeal.


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