National ArchivesThe Challenge of Electronic Records Management Gao ID: T-GGD-00-24 October 20, 1999
Records generated electronically--such as E-mail messages, word processing documents, CD ROMS, and web site pages--present special archival challenges for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and federal agencies. NARA has tried to address agencies' immediate needs for guidance and direction on electronic records management by revising its bulleting and other guidance as well as forming a new group to help answer agencies' questions. Some of NARA's actions have come about because of a court decision, which held that NARA's guidance for the deletion of electronic records exceeded statutory authority. The Archivist appealed the decision, and an appeals court reversed the decision. The Archivist said, however, that NARA would continue to work toward ensuring preservation and ready access to electronic records.
GAO noted that: (1) NARA and federal agencies are confronted with many electronic records management (ERM) challenges, particularly technological issues; (2) NARA must be able to receive electronic records from agencies, store them, and retrieve them when needed; (3) agencies must be able to create electronic records, store them, properly dispose of them when appropriate, and send valuable electronic records to NARA for archival storage; (4) NARA officials told GAO that NARA needs to expand its capacity to accept the increasing volume of electronic records from agencies; (5) in addition to increasing volume, NARA must address some definitional problems, such as what constitutes an electronic record; (6) in addition, because agencies follow no uniform hardware or software standards, NARA must be capable of accepting various formats from agencies and maintaining a continued capability of reading those records; (7) NARA is not alone in facing ERM challenges, the agencies also must meet Federal Records Act responsibilities; (8) agencies must incorporate NARA's guidance into their own recordkeeping systems; (9) agencies' reactions to ERM challenges are varied; (10) on the basis of GAO's discussions with NARA and some agency officials, GAO learned that some agencies are waiting for more specific guidance from NARA while others are moving forward by looking for ways to better manage their electronic records; (11) even though NARA is aware of what some agencies are doing, it does not have governmentwide data on records management capabilities and programs of federal agencies; (12) NARA had planned to do a baseline survey to collect such data on all agencies by the end of fiscal year 2000; (13) the Archivist decided, however, to temporarily postpone doing this baseline survey because he accorded higher priority to such activities as reengineering NARA's business processes; (14) GAO recommended that NARA do the baseline survey as part of its reengineering process; (15) the Archivist stated that the baseline data would not be relevant to its reengineering efforts and therefore NARA would not collect it at this time; (16) even though NARA lacks governmentwide data on how agencies are implementing ERM, NARA has already begun revising its guidance to agencies; (17) GAO's review of the ERM activities in four states and three foreign governments showed that approaches to ERM differ; and (18) these entities often did things differently from each other and NARA.