Are file cabinets really better?

Are file cabinets really better?

More effective management is the key to efficient e-government, experts say

By Patricia Daukantas

GCN Staff

When it comes to records management, 'in some ways, we were better off in the days of file cabinets than we are today,' Rear Adm. Raymond A. Archer III says.

Employees used to pull out one file folder to retrieve all records on a subject, the vice director of the Defense Logistics Agency said. Now, 'if I asked you to show all the e-mails on a certain topic, you could not do it,' Archer said last month at an electronic document management conference in Laurel, Md.


Rear Adm. Raymond A. Archer III, vice director of DLA, says managers waste money buying document management products if they don't first know their agencies' business processes.


'The big problem isn't the lack of technical solutions,' said Marshall Bailey, director of DLA's Document Automation and Production Service in Mechanicsburg, Pa. 'The big problem is lack of effective management.' The service cosponsored the conference with the Association for Enterprise Integration.

'Don't buy a piece of software and think you've got a solution,' Archer said. 'You just wasted your money.' Before considering the technical options, an agency needs thorough advance knowledge of its organizational business practices, he said.

Stephen T. Sherman, deputy director of DAPS, said one of the greatest changes he's seen in 21 years with the agency is its ongoing transformation from a printing business to an information delivery and packaging business.

Higher and higher

The growth of enterprise technology within the government is driving decision-making and implementation to ever higher organizational levels, Sherman said. The Defense Department is doing more of its business at major commands and DOD headquarters instead of at military bases, he said.

Society is trying to deal with an information glut, said Norman P. Hubbs III, vice president for electronic government at Integic Corp. of Chantilly, Va.

It's not that government hasn't put enough documents on the Web, 'the challenge is making the documents relevant,' Hubbs said.

And, not every e-government transaction constitutes an official, legal record, said Marion Cherry, a senior systems engineer at the Architecture and Interoperability Directorate under DOD's chief information officer. The law defines any e-mail message documenting government business transactions as a record. But announcing someone's retirement party is not a record.

Unfortunately, there are no specific guidelines on what constitutes documenting government business transactions, Cherry said. Agencies have to decide on a case-by-case basis, she said.

The Joint Interoperability Test Command at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., has a certification program for records management applications, Cherry said, and so far has certified 28 of them.

Jonathan Womer, representing the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, said a December White House directive on e-government called on agencies to organize services and information by service or subject, not by agency. That has sparked a move toward Web portals that cut across organizational boundaries, such as the new FirstGov site [GCN, Oct. 2, Page 3].

The Government Paperwork Elimination Act requires that by 2003 agencies make all transactions electronic 'when practicable.' The law gives agencies some flexibility, Womer said. OMB has asked all agencies to submit by the end of the month timetables for implementing GPEA.

Cutting stovepipes

Womer said the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act that took effect this week forces agencies that regulate private transactions to deal with the implications of using digital signatures [GCN, July 10, Page 1].

Personal identification numbers and biometric signature techniques tend to be limited to certain types of applications and thus perpetuate stovepipe environments, Womer said. Encrypted digital signatures can work with multiple applications to cut through these stovepipes, he said.

P. Christopher Wren, chief technology officer of the General Services Administration's Office of Information Technology Integration, urged agency managers to closely examine claims about total cost of ownership before buying into a document management system. He said agencies need to know exactly what hardware, software and services are included or excluded.

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