NARA awaits public opinion on policy options

The National Archives and Records Administration is turning to the public for help on
guidelines for archiving electronic documents.


The NARA Electronic Records Work Group this month issued some preliminary options for
replacing General Records Schedule 20, which had been the government's policy for
archiving electronic documents until a federal judge tossed the schedule out as
inadequate. NARA is appealing the ruling.


The NARA regulation had let agencies destroy electronic documents once they had been
copied to paper or some other format. But U.S. District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman
declared GRS 20 illegal last year [GCN, Nov. 10, 1997, Page 1] after a public advocacy group filed suit questioning the
schedule.


The six-page Electronic Records Work Group policy proposal has three detailed options.
But NARA officials said they hope the public will help the agency choose the best
approach.


"The people who have been working on this--this is all they could come up
with," said Michael L. Miller, NARA's director of records management programs.
"They're not coming up with any grand ideas."


Currently, records are grouped based on the function they support. Correspondence, for
example, is kept in a specific area and stored for five years before NARA destroys it. The
first option would be to continue the approach, grouping electronic records and setting
destruction schedules based on record type.


The second and third options are more controversial and raised concerns among members
of the workgroup.


"Some of the ERWG members have serious reservations with the feasibility of
options 2 and 3," the group's proposal said. In Option 2, agencies would maintain
paper files of all important documents, and the electronic versions would be supplementary
to the paper records, Miller said.


"The option says that the electronic version has more information than we really
think we need to keep," he said.


The third option would save electronic documents based on the level of office that
generated the documents, meaning those from senior government officials and agency chiefs.


The documents would be stored electronically on a NARA server and saved for a specific
period of time.


The workgroup hopes the public might have some better ideas, Miller said, although few
people have filed comments on information posted on the ERWG's World Wide Web site.


The workgroup's proposal paper came on the heels of NARA's interim recommendations for
dealing with electronic document archiving [GCN, March 16, Page 54].


The group recommended that agencies keep electronic records and printed versions of the
documents.


The workgroup's proposal paper is on the Web at http://www.nara.gov/records/grs20/.


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