Records management is vital to e-gov

'Records management is not everyone's favorite pastime, but it does take a team to make it work. You need to take advantage of people's subject matter expertise.'

'Elizabeth Fugitt, USDA

Not long ago, the standard practice for a records manager was to put official paper documents in large filing cabinets, clean them out each October and keep them within reach for the next 12 months. As government documents have moved to the Internet and e-government has become part of agencies' processes, records management has been slow to change.

But the Agriculture Department recognizes that document management must be part of the e-government process, not an afterthought.

Agriculture is developing an e-records plan as a part of its e-government strategy, said Elizabeth Fugitt, departmental records manager.

'When you look at the concept of e-government, providing accurate and timely information to our customers is central to making this work,' she said.

Fugitt developed a plan to incorporate records management into the agency's e-government strategy. While the e-government plan develops, Fugitt is confident the department will endorse her methodology.

One of the first things any records officer must do, Fugitt said, is put together an e-records management team of program managers, records managers, IT staff and reference librarians.

Teamwork needed

'Records management is not everyone's favorite pastime, but it does take a team to make it work,' she said. 'You need to take advantage of people's subject matter expertise.'

USDA, for instance, has 31 bureaus that cover everything from the Forest Service to farmers to food stamps.

Along with culling information from program managers, Fugitt said, the first step toward implementing a new record management process is linking it to an agency's enterprise architecture.

'Through your enterprise architecture, you can correlate your business lines and then see where the records come from,' she said. 'The architecture also helps when putting together a new IT system because you know what records need to come from it and how to make sure customers have access for as long as necessary.'

During this initial stage, Fugitt said, officials must decide how to maintain the records. She said USDA is considering three ways: page-by-page validation and verification, which is time consuming and expensive; maintaining records in their original form with a viewer so anyone can view the record at any time; and moving records to storage devices such as digital tapes or CD-ROMs.

The second stage requires using metadata tags to establish user access standards.

These metadata tags also can be used during Stage 3 to establish search and response standards. By using the Federal Register's thesaurus of terms as a corporate taxonomy, Fugitt said, search engines can spider documents more quickly. The final stage includes setting up a way to get in touch with someone at the department when a documents search fails, such as a hotline or e-mail link to a reference librarian.

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