May 02, 2012
The federal government made little progress last year in improving records management, according to a new report from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) based on yearly agency self-assessments. In 2011, the records at 90 percent of federal agencies were at high or moderate risk of being improperly destroyed, down slightly from the 95 percent in the 2010 report. Federal government records are backbone of transparency and accountability, but the vast majority of them remain at risk.
Some agencies are simply abysmal at records management. The worst two, with a score of only 3 out of 100 possible points, were the Postal Regulatory Commission and the Marine Mammal Commission. On the other hand, the Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement was the top agency with a score of 99, followed by a 98 score for two other Interior agencies, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Office fo the Special Trustee for American Indians.
Managing email and other electronic records continues to be a serious problem, including a lack of understanding of electronic records by agency officials. Over 80 percent of agencies still use "print and file" as one of their methods for preserving email, with another 49 percent using backup tapes. Only 19 percent used using an electronic records management system or records management application to capture email. In addition, many agency respondents did not know or understand key terms related to electronic records. Agencies also increasingly use social media and cloud computing, but most have not developed policies for managing records in these environments.
The new report comes in the middle of a push by the White House to institute better records management throughout the federal government. Last November, President Obama issued a presidential memo on managing government records requiring all agencies to provide NARA reports describing their plans improving their records management programs, especially electronic records. Those reports were submitted in March, and NARA and OMB are now working on a Records Management Directive that will direct agencies to take specific steps to reform and improve records management policies and practices.
CREW again applauds the White House for taking this important step, and NARA for its continued commitment to records management. At this point, however, the bottom line remains the same. The government’s continued failure to comply with its record keeping obligations leaves the public with a massive gap in our historical record and jeopardizes public accountability. The new report again shows this shameful neglect and underscores the need for focused attention on this critical issue.