Worker buried by paper documents

How to get on top of the federal records tidal wave

Federal agencies are drowning in an ever-increasing tidal wave of records, causing many agencies to exceed their annual records management budgets by an average of 17 percent, or $5 million, according to a new MeriTalk survey of federal records managers.

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A single federal agency currently spends an average of $34.4 million per year on records management, and manages an average of 209 million records. That number is expected to increase as much as 144 percent -- to 511 million records -- by 2015, according to the study report, "Federal Records Management: Navigating the Storm."

Across the 40 main federal agencies, the number of records is expected to grow from 8.4 billion to 20.4 billion, the report said. The findings are based on an online survey of 100 federal records managers and 100 federal finance professionals conducted in September 2012.

Respondents said that problems with managing records hinder agency operations. For example, 41 percent of documents that are created electronically are managed in paper format, the survey found. The managers estimated that they lose 18 percent of their total budget annually due to inefficient records management.

The survey found that 62 percent of records are managed in-house, 11 percent are managed by the National Archives and Records Administration but are accessible to agency users and 5 percent are managed by an outside vendor. Nine percent of respondents said they didn’t know how the records were managed.

Respondents pointed to better training for records management personnel (43 percent), more funding (33 percent), and more support from agency leadership (32 percent) as the top ways to improve managing records. By focusing on those three factors, federal finance professionals estimate saving 24 percent of their records management budget, and records management professionals estimate the savings at 36 percent.

This could mean an annual savings of $8.3 million to $12.4 million per agency and between $330 million and $495 million government-wide each year, according to the study, which was underwritten by Iron Mountain, a provider of storage and information management services.

The growth in federal record volumes will only continue, driving up budgets and making it harder for agencies to manage information on their own, said Sue Trombley, managing director of consulting for Iron Mountain, in a release.

Most agency managers know they need outside help to get their arms around the problem and, as a result, are looking for alternatives from the development of strategic plans to agency-wide collaboration and training to implementing technology solutions and policy guidance, Trombley said.

The report recommends making records management an executive priority and investing in training. On the technology front, agency managers should adopt smart digitization methods and timely destruction of records. A common mistake when converting paper records to an electronic format is to scan and then save everything.

Instead, agency managers should consider what records they have, who needs them, for what purpose and for how long. Then they should digitize those records first and destroy older inactive records no longer needed for compliance or business reasons, the report states.

Reader Comments

Wed, Mar 27, 2013 Bill Sublett Maryland

Content Management is another term that is being used which is more encompassing with regard to other media types than Document Management. As many agencies consider moving data storage to the Cloud, remember that Record Management planning up front can also save time and money.

Tue, Mar 26, 2013

Organizational files are normally found on a shared drive for internal access by employees who have a need to know. Automated files do not help the user when auditors pull 5 yrs worth of audits that can date back to 15 years. Doing more with less is not cost effective to spend time searching records. Automated records management system in the past was down more than up; thus paper record keeping. Record management act more like a power hungry officer w/authority versus providing a service to their customers when asked for assistance. Records management is normally not a priority when there are more pressing issues/deadlines that have to be met. It's do the job when you find additonal time which never happens.

Fri, Mar 22, 2013 Rob Hankey United States

Document management is formidable challenge but I feel this is too narrow a focus. The management effort should be on information management, how that information is being collected and where it needs to be shared. Part of why we have a paper burden is that it is the only way to share it with someone who needs it. Automating documents is not the answer, process automation along with the ability to easily pass that information to other systems should be our focus. It will take a lot of coordination and cooperation, but in the long run, its the only answer to this problem.

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