Points of order

Quicksilver records program sets standards for agencies to follow

Agencies struggling to manage their electronic records are getting some direction from the E-Government Electronic Records Management initiative.

Led by the National Archives and Records Administration, ERM is one of the Office of Management and Budget’s Quicksilver projects to expand electronic government under the President’s Management Agenda.

Government officials view records management as a crucial piece of the infrastructure that will make e-government work.

ERM differs from other e-gov projects in that it’s not building a cross-government electronic service such as a Web portal.

The project’s purpose is to provide policy guidance to help agencies better manage their electronic records to support effective decision-making and ensure accountability.

“We’re not running a technology,” said Chris O’Donnell, records officer at the Environmental Protection Agency, which is in charge of the Enterprisewide Electronic Records Management component of the NARA initiative.

“The idea is to provide some uniformity and standards across the federal government for records management,” O’Donnell said.

EPA’s piece is one of three current “issue areas” in e-records management the NARA project comprises.

The two other areas address a governmentwide standard for records management systems and formats for permanent e-records transfer to NARA.

A fourth issue area, correspondence management and tracking, was closed last year when NARA officials decided there wasn’t really a need for it.

When the NARA initiative was getting under way, agency executives identified correspondence management as a pressing need, so it was added to the issue areas, said Nancy Allard, co-manager of the ERM program and a senior policy specialist at NARA.

“They wanted to be able to share high-level congressional correspondence within the agency or across agencies, so we established an issue area devoted to that,” she said.

But officials later found that most agencies already had effective systems for correspondence management.

“There was no need to invent a new solution when the problem was being resolved, so we declared victory with that one,” Allard said.

For the enterprisewide ERM segment, EPA is applying its experience in developing its own enterprise content management system to the creation of six guidance documents on planning, acquiring and implementing e-records systems.

EPA expects to pilot the system at its Region IV office in Dallas later this year, O’Donnell said.
“One of the reasons that we stepped up to the plate is that we had been working on [developing an ERM application] and we had some experience to lend to the guidance documents,” she said.
Two of the documents already have been published on NARA’s Web site.

The first offers guidance for evaluating capital planning and investment control proposals for ERM applications.
The second document, published last month, is intended to help agencies manage the requirements-analysis step of an agency-unique enterprisewide ERM system, O’Donnell said.

The document provides a process for identifying potential ERM system requirements not included in the Defense Department’s 5015.2 standard, which is being promoted under another E-Gov initiative issue area as the governmentwide standard for ERM systems.

“This guidance should be interpreted as a ‘best practice’ that agencies should adhere to when deciding to customize 5015.2-certified [records management] software,” the document says.

Forthcoming will be documents on evaluating off-the-shelf ERM applications, developing an ERM pilot project and deriving lessons learned from the pilot, O’Donnell said.

Another EPA guidance will stress the importance of an effective governance structure for ERM projects.

“Governance structures are critical because you have to have buy-in from all parts of the organization,” O’Donnell said.

Creating a governmentwide ERM standard—DOD’s 5015.2—is also a critical element of the E-gov project. Without a governmentwide standard, agency ERM systems can’t interoperate.

“DOD 5015.2 is standard for all Defense agencies, and when we started the initiative the question on the table was whether it should be extended to all federal agencies,” Allard said. “We decided that a bulletin from NARA should strongly encourage agencies to make it part of their baseline in going out to get new systems.”

At the time, she said, several agencies had started to develop their own requirements for a records management system.

“We felt that rather than having a lot of energy expended on reinventing the wheel, we should tell agencies to use DOD 5015.2 as a baseline,” Allard said.

Agencies are starting to use the DOD standard. The State Department, for example, has required that a records management system in development be compliant with 5015.2, Allard said.

New version coming

NARA is working with DOD on Version 3 of the standard, expected to be available for public comment by Sept. 30, 2005, said Mark Giguere, co-manager of the ERM initiative and NARA’s lead for IT policy and planning.

Version 3 will enhance some minimum metadata profiles and augment records transfer functionality, he said.

In the final issue area, NARA is expanding the number of formats that can be used by agencies when transferring permanent e-records to NARA.

This year, NARA has issued transfer formats for digital photography and geographical information systems, Allard said. She expects NARA to issue transfer guidance for Web records this month.

Overall, the ERM initiative is going well, Allard said. “We would like to say that it’s been very successful,” she said. “I think some of the [other E-gov initiatives] have gone through periods where they’ve had difficulty getting all the partners to agree. But we’ve had very helpful participation by the agencies in the initiative.”

Moreover, NARA expects all of the President’s Management Council agencies to have signed, by the end of the month, memorandums of understanding formally agreeing to use NARA’s ERM guidance products.

“We think that we’ve been delivering something that’s of value to the government,” Allard said.

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