Archiving data requires long-term view

Although agencies are creating more and more electronic archives,
Grajewski said he does not expect the National Archives and Records Administration to
specify a particular architecture or format for the files.


Grajewski joined SMS in 1983 after working as a certified public accountant for Arthur
Andersen & Co. and Deloitte & Touche LLP. He received a bachelor’s degree in
business administration from Georgetown University.


GCN associate editor Bill Murray interviewed Grajewski by telephone.





GCN: What
was SMS’ experience with its 1984 Army Micros contract, which many consider the first
federal indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract?


GRAJEWSKI: It was the first widespread deployment of desktop technology in the Army,
the first contract to feature file servers, the first to employ TCP/IP among servers and
the first desktop contract with Unix. This was before Microsoft Windows NT and Novell
NetWare existed.


We sold more than $400 million through the five-year contract. It matured SMS from a
small systems integration company into distribution, sales and marketing, logistics
planning and processing of large orders.


GCN: Where do you think
the National Archives and Records Administration is going with its architecture and format
rules?


GRAJEWSKI: Under the Records Disposition Act, NARA enforces the Federal Records Act.
Its archivists are concerned with preserving the historical or research value of
documentary materials.


They are a fascinating group of people who are seriously concerned about the historical
preservation of a federal record. In the world of electronics, NARA is grappling with
issues that have never been addressed before by commercial concerns or the government.
They are breaking new ground.


It’s not just a matter of looking at this type of architecture or that type,
it’s a fundamental way of deciding how to preserve a historical record so it’s
useful into the future.


If your electronic record constitutes a federal record, you must preserve it and give
it the protections of the Federal Records Act. There are three mechanical ways of doing
it.


The first is the same way you would preserve paper records—same amount of time and
same logic. The second way is to group your electronic records by preservation age. The
third is to schedule them all as electronic records under the same type of series.


NARA recognizes that there are true documentary records in electronic form and that
they need to be preserved for the short term. A minor subset needs to be preserved
permanently.


I think this is a milestone in our transition to a paperless government, and it
shouldn’t be looked at negatively. It’s recognition that we are now using the
systems that we spent so much time developing.


The government’s source work is now being done electronically, and there needs to
be a way of preserving it.The archives cannot place an unfunded mandate upon an agency in
an area that is NARA’s long-term responsibility.


I think the ultimate goal is to receive electronic media independent of both hardware
and software. They’ve only been receiving electronic records for a few years, so
there is no lingua franca, so to speak, for electronic records. NARA accepts ASCII on
media, and until now that has been a universally accepted format.


I think that in the future, things like Hypertext Markup Language and hyperlinks, which
have made the Internet so popular and ubiquitous, will be incorporated.


GCN: When will that
happen?


GRAJEWSKI: You can’t get that specific. These guys don’t work on that level.
They have a much broader, much longer-term view than this particular operating system or
that particular package. They’re worrying about things that don’t exist today.


When they make a commitment, they have to say, “What meets the needs of the agency
currently? We’re not going to have them do it another way. But also, what meets our
needs long-term?”


Archivists are in the business of determining the value of and the best way to preserve
documentary materials.


If they decide to accept something today, they have to make it sure it maintains its
value long-term. That may mean transforming something that was stored in one medium into
another.


To give you an idea of what archivists deal with, they recently had to separate, on
3,100 hours of Nixon administration tapes, the conversations that had to do with private
affairs from those that pertained to the government and political stuff. The private
discussions are not the property of the government but of the Nixon family or the Nixon
Library.


A panel judge ruled that there’s a digital copy now, so don’t worry about the
original, just delete the private [conversations]. But archivists would much rather have
the original as documentary material to preserve for the future.


Look at their plight as they move into the electronic world. Does a replica have the
same effective meaning? They have to [replicate] for the digital world, but that’s
their job, not the agencies’ job.


They’re also concerned about how hard will it be to update today’s electronic
record, to make sure it remains current and available for future work.


GCN: What agencies are
most on top of electronic records management?


GRAJEWSKI: I think the majority are well aware of the issue and have in one way or
another been informing their people that if they generate government records
electronically, they need to preserve them somehow.


As far as having mechanisms in place, the only agency that I can say is absolutely
doing it well is the Executive Office of the President. It has an even more onerous burden
than the Federal Records Act, and that is the Presidential Records Act.


Some forward-thinking agencies are using records management as a way of making
operations more efficient. The Environmental Protection Agency and Federal Deposit
Insurance Corp. come to mind. The Defense Department is also extremely concerned.


GCN: Last fall, U.S.
District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman threw out General Records Schedule 20’s
provision for erasure of electronic documents and emphasized NARA’s role in
protecting the legal and research value of government records. What’s your take on
Friedman’s ruling?


GRAJEWSKI: I think he’s exactly on the point. He’s reflecting what the
professional archivists and records managers have been saying—there is value in the
electronic form. Source materials are being generated electronically, and there needs to
be some way of preserving them.


On the mechanical level about e-mail, Friedman’s clearly in the right. On the
policy level, once we peel back the onion, we can see there truly is a requirement to
document, if we’re going to keep government accountable not only to its internal
affairs departments but also to the people. We don’t want a secret electronic
government to evolve.


No one is going out and intentionally obscuring the federal record. No one is purposely
deleting e-mail documents. What has happened is that technology has given rise to a risk
to our freedom.


Where there are no internal checks and balances to individuals’ powers within
agencies, we could slowly but surely fall into widespread abuses if there are no
documentary materials, even short-term.


We’re not talking here about long-term historical records. We’re talking
about whether internal affairs can determine whether individuals have abused agency
investigatory powers for their own gain, or whether there was an unofficial review program
in place to promote certain individuals, or whether an undocumented transfer of personal
information about private individuals took place.


GCN: Are there a lot of
tensions between chief information officers and records managers?


GRAJEWSKI: Yes. In meetings, I hear from time to time that CIOs haven’t been
involved in records management. Records have traditionally been paper documents, whereas
CIOs have been concerned with agency systems. Their paths hadn’t really crossed until
this point.


CIOs have a tremendous amount to do on year 2000 readiness and getting their systems
under control.


Now, all of a sudden, they’re burdened with an electronic records management
system on top of all the systems they already have. I think there are tensions over what
the roles are and the implications of the judge’s decision.


GCN: Is there much
concern about making systems backward-compatible enough to read records that are more than
five years old?


GRAJEWSKI: I don’t think so. Ninety-five percent of all federal records are
temporary, to be stored five years or less. Why do we need to start resolving long-term
issues, when 95 percent of the records will go away?


Worry about the other 5 percent in the appropriate way. Deal with the mass in the most
cost-effective and prudent way. Don’t impose requirements, systems and restrictions
unnecessarily.


The last thing you want to do is preserve an electronic record in a format other than
its original format, or in a different system or application. You absolutely decrease its
ability to be recalled and preserved. You have to track two forms of interface to it.


The best way to preserve something is to take a frank look at its nature and determine
how long it has to be preserved for its administrative, legal and historical value.
Preserve it in the most cost-effective manner you can within its original application.

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