It’s not every day that you get to meet with the Former Director of Modern Records at National Archives and Records Administration. But when you do, the topic of discussion is bound to drift toward the Federal Mandate for Electronic Records Management.

Record Keeping v. Record Management

As you may recall, the Federal Mandate was issued in a memo from President Obama and ordered agency directors to ensure “the successful implementation of records management requirements,” allocate proper resources and put someone in charge of reviewing that requirements have been met. And while a presidential mandate is nothing to ignore, getting government agencies to move quickly on an issue that has been debated for years is no small feat. We turned to Mike Miller, who now works as Practice Director for Records and Information Management at ARRAY Information Technology to shed some light on the issue of electronic records management.

Like the enterprise, converting records into an electronic format within the federal government doesn’t happen overnight. While smaller agencies may be better prepared to meet the demands, most agencies have ridiculous amounts of legacy systems for which to account and unstructured information abounds. Miller points out that there is a huge difference between keeping one’s records and managing them. The President’s mandate, while ambitious and not unreasonable to expect, does leave some ambiguities, such as "How qualified are the people who will review the requirements to accurately judge if they have been appropriately met or outlined?" Or "What central leadership will be provided to oversee the endeavor?" Or "What penalties may result from not fulfilling these requests?"

Strategic Planning Required

It’s not that Miller is opposed to electronic records management at the federal level. It’s quite the opposite, in fact. But he does acknowledge that it’s something that agencies such as the National Archives and Records Administration has been talking about for some time, without much forward momentum.

A key component of what an electronic records management program might look like and how it might work takes more than just identifying the right software platform; it takes a serious discussion about the importance of sharing information and what may result from sharing. Some agencies may require an open network from which to share records with constituents, while other agencies may not operate with an active constituent base in mind. There’s a reason why the Smithsonian Institution has more visitors than the Energy Department. 

Additionally, some agencies handle sensitive information that requires encryption and security clearance to access. With such diversity of information across agencies, it’s no doubt a tricky initiative to start, never mind finish. This is why it’s imperative that it’s all hands on deck when it comes to initiating a successful records management program. Though, as we all know, there are bigger things to focus on at the moment, but there will always be “more important” things to draw attention away from records management.

For more attention and funds to be allocated toward making records more accessible and easier to manage, the relevant parties need to get on board. And just like in the enterprise, that means bringing IT and legal together. It’s not a surprise that these two parties don’t always play nice, but it’s necessary for records management to become a primary goal.

Casting a Vote for Records Management

Considering that it’s an election year, is it possible that electronic records management may fall by the wayside should there be a change in administration? Not likely, says Miller, though he admits that records management isn’t a hotly contested election issue. Perhaps, if the general public knew about the benefits of accessing public records, they’d be more inclined to support it. And while many states have begun to enact programs that make state records available to its citizens, the public will start to demand it from federal agencies. Until then, however, we’ll have to wait.