Archives predicts deluge

Preserving electronic records and providing electronic access to them is the National Archives and Records Administration's biggest challenge

Preserving electronic records and providing electronic access to them is

the National Archives and Records Administration's biggest challenge, the

agency says. But as the national recordkeeper struggles to master new technologies,

it continues to be inundated by paper.

"The influx of paper will not end anytime soon," Archives officials

predict in an updated strategic plan that sets agency goals through 2007.

Thus, one of their goals is to build more space to house the continuing

flood of paper documents.

"Federal agencies are now using computers, but the government is far

from the paperless operation that has been predicted," archivists wrote

in the plan released June 29. The plan is in draft form and the Archives will accept public comments on

it until July 21.

A good part of the paper avalanche predates the Computer Age. For example,

the streamlining at some federal agencies and the closing of military bases

has prompted agencies to transfer records to the Archives sooner than expected.

But archivists say paper records will continue to pour in for decades.

"More and better space is needed to house federal records," the strategic

plan states. The Archives operates 22 records storage facilities from Atlanta

to Anchorage, Alaska, and 10 presidential libraries. Those facilities collectively

house more than 20 million cubic feet of documentary material, or "literally

billions of pages, photos, films" and other material, according to the plan.

"We have been adding more than one-half million cubic feet of mostly

paper-based records per year," the report says. Eventually, the profusion

of paper will be overwhelmed by a digital deluge.

The number of electronic records grew during the 1990s from a few thousand

to several hundred thousand, archivists reported. "We expect growth to accelerate

in the future."

For example, when the Clinton administration departs, it is expected

to hand the Archives millions of e-mail messages, presidential memorandums,

documents, National Security Council cable traffic, the president's daily

diary and more.

The State Department has an estimated 25 million diplomatic messages

in electronic form that are to be archived at the rate of "a million messages

a year, every year, indefinitely," the archivists say.

And as the volume of electronic records grows, so will demand for "immediate

electronic access to information at no cost," fueled by "the growth of Web

access and e-government," the report predicts.

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