Worker buried by paper documents

How to get on top of the federal records tidal wave

Federal agencies are drowning in an ever-increasing tidal wave of records, causing many agencies to exceed their annual records management budgets by an average of 17 percent, or $5 million, according to a new MeriTalk survey of federal records managers.

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A single federal agency currently spends an average of $34.4 million per year on records management, and manages an average of 209 million records. That number is expected to increase as much as 144 percent -- to 511 million records -- by 2015, according to the study report, "Federal Records Management: Navigating the Storm."

Across the 40 main federal agencies, the number of records is expected to grow from 8.4 billion to 20.4 billion, the report said. The findings are based on an online survey of 100 federal records managers and 100 federal finance professionals conducted in September 2012.

Respondents said that problems with managing records hinder agency operations. For example, 41 percent of documents that are created electronically are managed in paper format, the survey found. The managers estimated that they lose 18 percent of their total budget annually due to inefficient records management.

The survey found that 62 percent of records are managed in-house, 11 percent are managed by the National Archives and Records Administration but are accessible to agency users and 5 percent are managed by an outside vendor. Nine percent of respondents said they didn’t know how the records were managed.

Respondents pointed to better training for records management personnel (43 percent), more funding (33 percent), and more support from agency leadership (32 percent) as the top ways to improve managing records. By focusing on those three factors, federal finance professionals estimate saving 24 percent of their records management budget, and records management professionals estimate the savings at 36 percent.

This could mean an annual savings of $8.3 million to $12.4 million per agency and between $330 million and $495 million government-wide each year, according to the study, which was underwritten by Iron Mountain, a provider of storage and information management services.

The growth in federal record volumes will only continue, driving up budgets and making it harder for agencies to manage information on their own, said Sue Trombley, managing director of consulting for Iron Mountain, in a release.

Most agency managers know they need outside help to get their arms around the problem and, as a result, are looking for alternatives from the development of strategic plans to agency-wide collaboration and training to implementing technology solutions and policy guidance, Trombley said.

The report recommends making records management an executive priority and investing in training. On the technology front, agency managers should adopt smart digitization methods and timely destruction of records. A common mistake when converting paper records to an electronic format is to scan and then save everything.

Instead, agency managers should consider what records they have, who needs them, for what purpose and for how long. Then they should digitize those records first and destroy older inactive records no longer needed for compliance or business reasons, the report states.

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