Records Management

Attention feds: Those texts, tweets and snapchats just might be records

Shutterstock image: businessman using a smart phone.

Updates to federal records laws enacted in late 2014 put feds on notice about new obligations when using non-governmental email systems to conduct government business. Also included in the new law was a more-expansive definition of what constitutes a messaging system, and Paul Wester, the chief federal records officer at the National Archives and Records Administration, has the job of translating that law into practice.

Feds who are using SMS, Twitter, Facebook and even Snapchat may have obligations to preserve material generated on these platforms for record-keeping purposes.

"Some of this content can have permanent value at the highest level of your agency," Wester said in an Aug. 26 keynote at the Digital Government Institute's 930gov conference.

Wester drove home the point made in a NARA bulletin issued in late July. "Electronic messages created or received in the course of agency business are federal records," he said. He advised records officials at agencies to add a minimum time frame for the retention of such records to agency records policies, and to retain messages in such a way that they can be electronically discovered and retrieved. NARA also is looking to adapt its Capstone approach to email management -- designating individual positions for automatic email retention -- to other electronic media.

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Chief Records Officer Paul Wester would prefer that records management was done right, of course, but the political kerfuffles do offer a teachable moment.

The ongoing saga of presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is proving to be an enduring lesson for federal employees. While Wester referred to Clinton only obliquely, it's clear that the story is top of mind for federal records officers.

The new celebrity of records management as a topic gives Wester and others at NARA something of a high profile as they work to put in place the dictates of a 2012 Presidential Memorandum, which requires all email records to be retained in electronic format by the end of 2016, and all electronic records to be stored in their original format by the end of 2019.

"Just about every agency says they're going to meet the deadline," Wester said. "When we ask them what that means to them, there's a variety of answers." But by this time in 2016, Wester expects to have spreadsheets documenting the progress of all federal agencies in prepping for the Dec. 2016 deadline, and said he expects to be asked about the deadline both on Capitol Hill and by the Office of Management and Budget.

There are a few milestones coming, Wester said. The final version of the Capstone general records schedule will be put in place in the coming months. NARA intends to make public the list of federal offices and officers designated for automatic record retention under Capstone, except in the case of certain national security and intelligence community posts.

For the future, Wester said, NARA is looking to develop a records management line of business, more as a broker than as a provider. The idea is that NARA can communicate between CIO shops, records managers and vendors to develop ways to automate records capture and retention on federal systems.

"We need to figure out how to make things more simple and seamless, and take it out of the users' hands," Wester said.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy, health IT and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mr. Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian started his career as an arts reporter and critic, and has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, Architect magazine, and other publications. He was an editorial assistant and staff writer at the now-defunct New York Press and arts editor at the About.com online network in the 1990s, and was a weekly contributor of music and film reviews to the Washington Times from 2007 to 2014.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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