Sprehe: Missing the point

Information management suffers when agencies focus too obsessively on risk management

Federal records management is badly lopsided and is getting worse. It’s focused on risk management to the virtual exclusion of information management.

chartRecords manage-
ment has two aspects: risk manage-
ment and information management. The risk management aspect means protecting and preserving the records crucial to an agency’s work and securing citizens’ rights. Information management means delivering records information to the right people at the right time in useful formats.

The imbalance of federal records management is revealed in the federal enterprise architecture and the National Archives and Records Administration’s FEA Records Management Profile. That profile focuses exclusively on the risk management side of records management.

Similarly, the federal enterprise architecture has mistakenly emphasized the risk management side of records management. It makes no connection between records management and information management, information retrieval, information sharing, knowledge management, and content publishing and delivery — all functions in which records play a critical role.

Federal records officers interact too infrequently with information managers. They make scrupulous inventories of agency records but do not account for how those records are used in agency business processes. Agencies use records every day, but records managers know little about these uses. Records officers seldom see it as part of their duties to help program employees better use records to achieve agency goals.

Exceptions to the above generalization are those records management employees involved in electronic records management. They find that ERM requires integration with content management applications, and they must necessarily interact with content creators and managers.

NARA is not to be blamed for records management being lopsided and the FEA Records Management Profile’s obsession with risk management. The blame lies with the General Services Administration.

Most people think of NARA as the federal records management agency, but NARA shares records management responsibility with GSA. When Congress created NARA in 1984, removing functions from GSA, the law left GSA charged with “economy and efficiency in records management.” That is, GSA is responsible for the information management side of records management.

The imbalance has occurred because GSA has callously shirked its records management responsibilities for the past 23 years. Look for GSA guidance on economy and efficiency in records management, and you will find nothing, nada, zilch — except for 41 CFR 102-193.

Title 41 of the Code of Federal Regulations is the sole document in which GSA’s records management responsibilities are enumerated. In the document, GSA specifies what federal agencies must do to deliver the right records information at the right time in the right format. 

One wonders whether officials at GSA’s Office of Governmentwide Policy ever think about what they are doing with their governmentwide responsibility for records management policy. They apparently have not thought about it for 23 years, and the consequence is badly lopsided federal records management.

Sprehe is president of Sprehe Information Management Associates in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at jtsprehe@jtsprehe.com.

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