Group recommends creating council to oversee electronic records management

Future federal electronic records management may be overseen by a Federal Records Council that would support agencies' efforts to implement the 2002 E-Government Act.

A new report from the Electronic Records Policy Working Group offers four broad recommendations for improving agency management of electronic records, including establishing the records council, increasing accountability and enforcement of records management policies, establishing easily identifiable standards for records management, and developing a records management profile to ensure statutory and regulatory requirements are built into agencies' enterprise architectures.

The recommendations were posted for public comment last week in the Federal Register.

The working group, established under the Chief Information Officers Council's Interagency Committee on Government Information, is charged with developing more effective policies for managing electronic records.

Michael Kurtz, chairman of the working group and National Archives and Records Administration assistant archivist for records in Washington, said the four recommendations were designed to raise agencies' records management policies to a higher level of visibility.

"I think it's recognized throughout the government that the management of information is a critical government requirement," Kurtz said. "It is our belief that [the recommendations] are all complementary and supportive and you can't just have one without the other."

Kurtz said the working group has received a few comments from agency managers, but he expects more submissions once the Nov. 24 deadline draws nearer.

According to a June 2004 report from the working group, agencies, at best, are "treading water" when it comes to electronic records management. Instances such as the FBI's handling of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh's investigative records and the loss of information following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks illustrate the government's failure to effectively manage electronic records, the goup reported.

The group also cited allegations that the Interior and Treasury departments destroyed Indian Trust account records in relation to a class action lawsuit filed against the government.

Federal agencies are facing a changing business environment where the management of overwhelming volumes of information and records is critical, the report stated. Agencies often are ineffective in implementing information and records management procedures, and rapidly changing technologies are making the hardware and software used to create electronic information obsolete.

Traditional methods for managing records have become outmoded as personal computers have become the primary method for storing information, Kurtz said. Before PCs were dominant in the workplace, paper records were managed systematically by a secretary. Records were often stored in central file rooms by file clerks who controlled record receipt and distribution.

The barriers to electronic information management identified by the working group included failure to manage records as assets and support training for records management and poor integration of technologies within agencies for records management.

"In short, while everyone is now a records manager, users do not understand the processes or have the tools to manage their records and information effectively," the group stated. "As a result, these assets are often difficult to locate, cannot easily be shared within and across agencies, and are at risk of being lost."

The working group's final recommendations are due Dec. 17, and once approved, will take 12 to 18 months to implement.

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