E-archiving still lacks enforcement

Draft Redesign of Federal Records Management

Although the National Archives and Records Administration continues to develop guidance and technology to preserve agencies' electronic records, millions of records could be lost because archiving policies have not been enforced, experts said last week.

Standards such as PDF-Archive, JPEG 2000 and Extensible Markup Language should aid the government's efforts to preserve records in an accessible format for years to come, said Stephen Levenson, records policy officer for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, speaking at a Feb. 26 forum sponsored by Adobe Systems Inc.

But many records, created with now-obsolete and unavailable technology, may already be inaccessible. Many documents, for example, were created with word processing software that is no longer available. Although agency officials could have electronic versions, there may be no way to access them.

The government's failure to develop and enforce true governmentwide archiving guidance "has been a concern," said Catherine Teti, managing director for knowledge services at the General Accounting Office, speaking at the forum.

In a report released in June 2002, GAO criticized NARA's existing management guidance and recommended that it develop a documented strategy for periodically assessing agencies' progress in improving their records management programs.

NARA issued draft guidelines in July 2002 defining a new records management and archiving approach — the Redesign of Federal Records Management, which includes an oversight and assessment plan.

But the agency cannot simply assess agencies' programs, Rick Barry, an electronic records consultant, told NARA and the National Academies' Digital Archiving Committee Feb. 27. NARA must also take a more active role in ensuring that all agencies adopt the different approach outlined in the draft, he said.

NARA officials may lack the skills or power to enforce the guidelines, Barry said. He suggested that officials examine legislative changes or, to address short-term needs, work with the White House to develop an executive order.

However, working through existing systems — such as the budget development process at the Office of Management and Budget — may be the fastest and most effective way to ensure that agencies make electronic records part of their daily and long-term management processes, said one federal official who asked not to be named.

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