State gives history to NARA on CDs

'The State Department is applying advanced technology to declassify historical information more quickly and make it more easily available,' Colin Powell says.

Jonathan Ernst/ Reuters

On April 13, Thomas Jefferson's birthday, the State Department and the National Archives and Records Administration honored the nation's first secretary of State and archivist by making historical foreign affairs documents more easily accessible.

When secretary of State Colin Powell handed a stack of CD-ROMs containing diplomatic records to national archivist John Carlin at a ceremony at State headquarters, it marked the transformation from a paper process dating back to World War II to one that uses IT.

'The State Department is applying advanced technology to declassify historical information more quickly and make it more easily available,' Powell said. 'Jefferson and our other founding fathers understood that there needs to be the freest possible flow of information to the citizens, and there had to be accountable systems in government. It comes as no surprise that Jefferson placed a high importance on his duties as the archivist.'

State and NARA also signed an agreement to work together to standardize the format of data transferred to the archives. Powell said the agreement could become a model for the rest of the federal government.

Volume 1

The first set of records consists of diplomatic correspondence'about 700,000 documents'from July 1973 through December 1974.

'The State Department records are the second-most heavily used category of records after genealogical resources,' Carlin said. 'This is the first major body of electronic textual records the National Archives has ever accepted' from the department.

NARA will store the records on digital tapes after verifying and editing the information, said Michael Kurtz, the agency's assistant archivist for records services.

'We will load the data into our archival access database, which will make the information available over the Internet,' Kurtz said. 'This is the first time users can do research off-site and whenever they want to.'

State will use CD-ROMs for at least the next two years to transfer data to NARA while contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. develops the State Messaging and Archive Retrieval Toolset system. SMART will replace a host of legacy systems, including a cable system built on 60-year-old technology and an incomplete archival system.

Joseph Lake, chairman of State's Steering Committee on Messaging and Interagency Collaboration, said SMART eventually will support archiving and transfer of all classified and declassified documents to NARA.

'SMART is a centralized database that all of the agency will use,' said Lake, a former ambassador. 'We have to make sure the system is one both the archives and State employees need.'

Model agency

Lake said State, NARA and the Office of Management and Budget also are looking at SMART as a model for other agencies for archiving and transferring records.

In the fall, 3,000 State employees will test the system for three to six months. A formal launch is scheduled for early next year.

'We are trying to solve the problem of transferring data to NARA during the formulation of the system and establish a protocol for the rest of the government,' said Larry Emery, SMART program manager.

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