There's no quick fix for archiving electronic records, archivist says

Implementing a new policy for archiving electronic records will take time, the national
archivist said last week.


Because of the complexities associated with electronic documents, it could take more
than two years for some agencies to come up with ways to destroy or store those documents,
John W. Carlin said.


“There are no easy answers, and much work remains to be done,” he said.
“Clearly federal agencies want to manage their electronic records—indeed, all
their records—more effectively, and the National Archives and Records Administration
has pledged to help them.”


Carlin had planned to announce a new policy based on the recommendations of NARA’s
Electronic Records Workgroup (see story, Page 68).


But because agencies are concerned about the complexity, cost and far-reaching impact
of the recommendations, the Office of Management and Budget asked NARA to circulate a
draft regulation, Carlin said. NARA plans to issue the draft rule Oct. 9 as a NARA
Bulletin.


“We agree with OMB on the need to ensure that the approach adopted in the final
bulletin will be feasible,” Carlin said, “and will not interfere with the
federal agencies’ activities to address their year 2000 problems.”


The workgroup has recommended that federal agencies establish a formal process for
managing electronic records [GCN, July 27, Page 75]. The
workgroup spent 10 months researching proposals for a schedule to replace General Records
Schedule 20.


GRS-20 let agencies delete electronic records once a copy had been made. Federal
District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman threw out the rule and ordered NARA to come up with
a replacement by Sept. 30.


NARA will not meet that deadline, officials acknowledged. “Are we going to have
the problem solved by the end of the month? No,” said Michael L. Miller, director of
NARA’s Modern Records Program and chairman of the workgroup. But the report has been
filed and milestones are set, he said.


The Justice Department will send a report to Friedman, Miller said.


“Electronic records are here to stay; they are the present and the future,”
Carlin said. “Although NARA cannot change the past, we can be aggressive now and in
the future, and we must do so to ensure that essential evidence in electronic records is
properly preserved.”


As part of NARA’s effort to deal with electronic records, the archives will
re-engineer the entire process for appraising, storing and destroying records in all
formats.


Besides working on the implementation of records schedules for electronic records,
Miller said a workgroup follow-on will focus on electronic record-keeping.  

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