Project aims to modernize data preservation process

Project aims to modernize data preservation process

The processes used to create and maintain records have changed quickly, deputy archivist Lewis Bellardo says.

By Christopher J. Dorobek

GCN Staff

The National Archives and Records Administration is looking to streamline the processes agencies use to preserve federal records, an effort that has been driven by the increase in electronic records.

NARA has launched an 18-month project to re-engineer the processes used to set records schedules, the formal name for the instructions agencies use to determine which documents are records and how long records must be saved.

'Our processes were basically developed during a period when everything was paper-based,' NARA deputy archivist Lewis Bellardo said. Most documents now are created electronically, he said.

'The processes used to create and maintain records are quite different than they were even a half-dozen years ago,' and NARA needs a system that reflects the way agencies are doing business, Bellardo said.

Archivist John W. Carlin, in a memo on the project, said, 'The major goals of this project are to define what should be the federal government's policies on determining the disposition of federal records, the processes that will best implement those policies, and the tools that are needed to support the revised policies and processes.'

Said Bellardo, 'We really want to have a more effective and more efficient disposition program in the government, one that defines the roles for the federal agencies, us [at NARA] and the public.'

Part of the task is determining what really needs to be kept, said Michael L. Miller, director of NARA's Modern Records Program and director of the re-engineering project.

The project has three parts, Miller said.

The first part will look at NARA policy specifically. The process has moved from paper to electronics, but there has been no examination of whether that means a change is needed in NARA procedures, Miller said.

'Economy and efficiency on the electronic side has a different meaning from the paper side,' he said.

The project will address some basic policy questions, including the goals and purposes of scheduling documents, and the appraisal criteria to be used in determining the appropriate retention period for documents. NARA also hopes to delineate the respective roles for NARA, agencies and the public.

The second part of the project will look at the process for scheduling documents, Miller said. Currently, the review and approval process essentially consists of listing the proposed schedules in the Federal Register. 'Is there a better way to do that?' Miller said. 'Should we put it on the Web?'

For the record

NARA will look at whether there is a more effective, productive and timely process for determining disposition of records.

The third part of the project will look at automation. 'We must use automation to support the scheduling process as part of managing records throughout their lifecycle,' Carlin said in his memo. 'Because actions taken at the time of a record's creation may affect its ultimate preservation and continuing use, NARA plans to revise and automate as appropriate all of its processes supporting the management of records throughout their lifecycle.'

Miller said NARA needs to ask what kind of data needs to be captured and whether any of that data can be collected earlier so it can be used more effectively.

Agencies have said the scheduling process is labor-intensive.

The goal, Miller said, is to make the process faster, more efficient and less burdensome.

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