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WH Executive Order Calls for Improved Archiving Policies

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President Obama is encouraging federal agencies to improve archiving of their digital records through reforming records management policies and practices.

In a memo sent to executive departments and agency heads yesterday, the president provided a framework for reforming the way government agencies store and access official records.

Some aspects President Obama noted as necessary and beneficial through the transformation included increased transparency and accountability, more detailed and accurate records, and improved cost and operational efficiency.

“When records are well managed, agencies can use them to assess the impact of programs, to reduce redundant efforts, to save money, and to share knowledge within and across their organizations,” wrote Obama. “In these ways, proper records management is the backbone of open government.”

According to a recent survey released by the National Archives and Records Administration in February, 2011, “many agencies are not managing the disposition of their records properly or, in some cases, they are saving their records but not taking the necessary steps to ensure that they can be retrieved, read, or interpreted.”

Some of the survey’s key findings include:

  1. Many of the agencies have a designated records officer. However, often the officer only works part time.
  2. Many agencies do not ensure that e-mails are stored in a recordkeeping database, nor do they monitor employee e-mail preservation policies on a regular basis.
  3. In the last few years, many agencies have made measurable progress in scheduling their electronic information systems. However, less than half are currently scheduling such systems for disposition.
  4. Nearly 41 percent of federal agency records management programs do not oversee records disposition by senior-level officials.
  5. Nearly 14 percent of agencies provide formal records management training to all staff.

In President Obama’s memorandum, he outlined the purpose, agency commitments to records management reform, and record management directives in order to begin the transformation process.

“With proper planning, technology can make these records less burdensome to manage and easier to use and share,” wrote Obama. “But if records management policies and practices are not updated for a digital age, the surge in information could overwhelm agency systems, leading to higher costs and lost records.”

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