Many agencies earn failing grade for e-recordkeeping

NARA says agencies need to improve electronic recordkeeping

Seventy-nine percent of more than 200 departments, agencies, and sub-agencies that responded to a recent survey from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) were found to have a high or moderate risk of improperly destroying records.

The findings, released today, show agencies are “falling short in carrying out their records management responsibilities, particularly regarding the exponential use and growth or electronic records,” NARA said in a statement. The Archives also reported areas where agencies needed to improve their handling of e-mail message records.

According to NARA’s survey, e-mail records at 164 of 221 agencies were found to be at a high or moderate risk. “Our findings show weaknesses in many agencies’ e-mail policies,” the report said.

The results come from records management self-assessments for fiscal 2009 that departments, agencies, and sub-agencies submitted to NARA. Last year was the first time NARA issued the mandatory assessments, and the Archives said it plans to use the results as a baseline measure of records management programs and practices. NARA plans to repeat the assessments annually.

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NARA report: Assessment of Records Management Programs in the Federal Government

Laurence Brewer, director of NARA’s Life Cycle Management Division, said the results using will give the agency a baseline to develop a better picture of how agencies manage their records and where to apply resources.

In the assessments, agencies responded to questions related to their records program management, records disposition, as well as their handling of vital records, electronic records and e-mail records.

The maximum total score agencies could receive was 100 with the most points, 30, coming from how agencies handled e-mail records. NARA considers a total score of 90 or better to represent a relatively low level of risk for the agency.

NARA said the 2009 survey had a special focus on e-mail records. The agency plans to have a special focus for the reports each year. Brewer said 2010 will focus on training.

In particular, NARA said e-mail records management training is a concern, as employees often aren’t trained on related policy, even if it exists. NARA said the finding of a lack of training for senior officials who are often responsible for policymaking and whose e-mail records are more likely to have historical significance is particularly noteworthy.

Brewer said the results show agencies need to strengthen their own e-mail management polices and perform audits. He also said the assessments show that training on e-mail records needs to be done more regularly and be formalized.

NARA sent the results of the self-assessments to relevant committee in Congress and to the Office of Management and Budget.  

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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