NARA preps for presidential transition

NARA preps for presidential transition

When President Obama leaves office, the National Archives and Records Administration will be moving an unprecedented number of presidential records into electronic and physical storage.

In March, NARA requested $4.9 million and 15 full-time employees to transfer presidential paper and electronic presidential records and artifacts to NARA’s data center in Keyser, W.Va., and to a temporary facility in Chicago where papers and other artifacts will be stored before they move to their permanent home in the Obama presidential library. NARA is also requesting an employee to staff the temporary facility.

“On January 20, 2017, NARA will assume legal custody of over 200 terabytes of electronic presidential records, 60 million pages of presidential records in analog formats, and approximately 50,000 presidential artifacts,” the agency said in its 2017 budget request. To catalog and move that amount of data, NARA has already begun copying a vast amount of digital material to its servers.

The number of electronic records has grown with each president, based on the administration’s use of technology to conduct government business. When the Clinton administration left the White House, NARA transferred 3 terabytes of records, including 20 million emails, according to the New York Times. About 80 terabytes were moved after George W. Bush left office.

For the Obama administration, the copying of documents began earlier than usual to accommodate photographs and videos in addition to traditional documents.

These electronic records must be transferred from White House systems and verified and indexed for ingest into NARA's Electronic Records Archives (ERA), which allows processing of electronic records for eventual release through the National Archives Catalog, Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero wrote in a fall 2015 article.

ERA 1.0 was first deployed in 2008, and NARA plans to retire that legacy information system. ERA 2.0, currently in development with IBM, will feature an enhanced, scalable tool for the scheduling, transfer and long-term storage of permanently-valuable electronic federal records. Records in the new technology system will be stored in the cloud, which is expected to be more flexible and scalable than its predecessor.

NARA expects ERA 2.0 to simplify the process of transferring electronic records to the agency, eventually allowing for batch processing of large-volume records transfers.

The records of the current administration will be the largest collection to date, and the complexity of those electronic records will far exceed that of previous administrations, NARA said in its budget request, which also included $1.9 million to screen records for Freedom of Information Act requests.

The Department of Defense helps transport the material, which will occur mostly by truck. However, NARA will be responsible for the security of the records and artifacts as they are shipped.

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.

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