Sprehe: NARA profile reflects bad focus

The National Archives and Records Administration has issued a Federal Enterprise Architecture Records Management Profile. Its purpose is to provide “the framework for embedding common and consistent records management procedures and practices into agency business processes.”

The profile embodies the grounds for my profound disappointment with NARA’s approach to records management. Although the profile gives lip service to the benefits of effective records management, it concentrates attention on risk management — that is, the costs of poor records management.

The vision of NARA’s profile is one big burden on agencies. The word “requirement” is used 187 times while “benefit” occurs only 10 times. The profile says almost nothing about the fact that every business process in the federal enterprise architecture uses records to manage information.

It passes by management of customer relationships, financial systems, human resources, supply chains, security, information content and others without a word about the critical role of records management in all of those processes.

We keep records to maintain accountability and protect rights. But most fundamentally, we keep records to use them, and in this respect NARA’s profile fails dismally. Risk management, yes, but what about the beneficial uses of records for everyday information and knowledge management?

Contrast the profile’s obsession with capturing and preserving records with, for example, the Defense Department’s network-centric data strategy. The core principle of network-centricity is to make information — including records — visible, accessible and understandable to users. DOD focuses on getting information to users; NARA emphasizes putting information in storage for rainy days.

As a case in point, NARA’s profile gives an example of developing a system to automate an identification card application process. At one point, the example states: “Staff perform manual and automated checks on the application data to validate and verify the information.”

Checks of what? Checks of agency records, dummy! NARA is so preoccupied with the capture/preservation of the record that its own description walks right past a use of existing records in the creation of new records without blinking an eye.

NARA must focus its profile on records used in business processes. Show us how they support service types within the archicture’s service component reference model and achieve desired mission outcomes in the performance reference model.

The one mission result NARA cites to support using an electronic records management system is the speedier processing of Freedom of Information Act requests, which demonstrates the poverty of thought in its current profile. If that’s all the mission results NARA can show, the records management system is not worth the money.

NARA carries out only half of its mission: capturing and preserving records. It knows not the how or why of daily records use and should cease telling agencies how to manage them. As many have said before me, NARA does not manage records, it manages archives.

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

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