Op-ed: NARA framework distorts records management
The National Archives and Records Administration recently issued a
framework for developing records management guidelines. I see the
framework as one more instance of how NARA distorts records management
to the disservice of the entire federal government.
NARA presents itself as being generally responsible for federal records
management. That assertion is untrue, as NARA well knows.
1984 law that created the agency gave responsibility for federal
records management to NARA and the General Services Administration.
Whether by formal or informal agreement, GSA dropped out of any active
role in records management after 1984, and NARA stands unchallenged in
However, the agency represents only the half of
records management that Congress assigned to it in 1984 — namely,
documentation and preservation of records. That is the risk management
side of the field: If you don’t keep good records, bad things happen.
That is emphatically not the whole of records management.
other half of the field, which was assigned to GSA, is economy and
efficiency — the information management part of records management.
That part deals with how agencies use records information every day in
their business processes.
You find the GSA aspect still included
in the Code of Federal Regulations provision that asks: What type of
records management business process improvements should my agency
strive to achieve? The key answer is: To give agency personnel the
information needed in the right place at the right time and in a useful
In other words, federal records managers are responsible
for feeding records information back into agency business processes and
for being active in agency information management. Would you ever
discover that from NARA’s records management guidance? No way.
thanks to NARA, federal records managers are mostly unaware that they
have any responsibilities in agency information management.
NARA asserts its primacy in federal records management, the assertion
should encompass the whole of the field, including GSA’s role. In the
new NARA guidance, as in everything preceding it, you find not a word
about the information management side of records. NARA preaches only
half of the gospel, and that is dishonest.
No one fills the role
of promoting the information management side of records management. No
government entity advises agencies on best practices for integrating
records information into their business processes. Nobody has developed
guidance for how records information should contribute to efficiency
and productivity in carrying out agency programs.
financial management demands reliable internal controls, which depend
on good financial records. Audits by inspectors general succeed only
when they have good records to rely on. Yet chief financial officers,
IGs and chief information officers never hear from NARA that good
records management is crucial to doing their jobs and improves mission
NARA argues only for the risks that occur when
records are not documented and preserved. It never says that programs
are more productive and efficient when a solid records management
In my judgment, records management has a low
status at agencies because of NARA’s lopsided take on what it is all
about. It is high time that the agency presented the whole picture.Sprehe ([email protected]) is president of Sprehe Information Management Associates in Washington.
Tim Sprehe is president of Sprehe Information Management Associates in Washington.