About the National Archives

18th Annual Records Administration Conference (RACO), remarks by Allen Weinstein, May 9, 2006

Remarks by Allen Weinstein, Archivist of the United States
May 9, 2006, Washington, DC

Good afternoon, I hope you are enjoying today's program.

Fact #1: Effectively managing, preserving, and providing appropriate access to the records of our modern democracy is a complex task.

Fact #2: It is far too complex for one agency such as NARA, or for you, a dedicated group of Federal records managers, to accomplish alone.

And fact #3: We need to work together to maximize resources and learn from one another's experiences.

The Archivist's Achievement Awards recognize outstanding achievements in records management that have made a difference and are models from which we can all learn. Each award illustrates and reflects an unusually high level of interaction and cooperation between the records management program and other program staffs within an agency. Each represents dramatic effort, working to improve significantly the agency's overall effectiveness, thereby demonstrating the unique contribution of records management to an agency's success.

We have five awards to present today. First, an agency that figures prominently in the thinking of Americans as they plan their retirement years—the Social Security Administration. SSA's records management program has worked closely with the Office of Systems as it implemented the Claims Files Records Management System, a system that manages and provides access to millions of completely electronic files pertaining to retirement, survivors and disability claims, and supplemental income for the aged, blind and disabled.

In the past under the paper-based claims process, SSA claims representatives in every state were faced with the task of locating the correct paper files in dozens of different systems to process one individual claim. Under the new totally electronic claims system, claims representatives in 35 states have immediate access at their desktop to all of these systems for claims filed beginning in January 2005.

SSA is adding more states as they become certified in the system, and they are making more traditionally paper-based records available online all the time. The electronic claims system responds to the President's management agenda of modernizing claims processing and improving service delivery.

In building this new Management System, SSA remained cognizant of the legal and regulatory requirements for electronic records. The SSA Office of Systems worked with records managers to develop a system that maintains the credibility, security, integrity, trustworthiness, and appropriate retention and destruction of these critical records. Equally important, this program, under close scrutiny (as you might imagine) from the White House, Congress, and the public, has met the challenge.

It is my pleasure to recognize SSA for its outstanding achievement in protecting the rights and entitlements of American citizens, and it is my honor to present the award to the Associate Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Mr. Gary Arnold.

Our next two award recipients turned the daunting prospect of an agency move into an opportunity to initiate major records management projects which make the disposal of the agency's records a logical, planned next step in a process rather than a last-minute panic action.

The Department of Transportation and many of its components are moving into a new headquarters building. Over the last two years, its Research and Innovative Technology Administration (known as RITA), formerly the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, began planning for that move by comprehensively scheduling its records, completing more than 40 schedules.

In preparation for the move, all of the records for RITA were inventoried, records series identified, and schedules developed. From this basic work, the RITA staff developed file plans for all administrative and programmatic records, developed a records manual that combined descriptive information about the records series, the file plan for that series, file labeling instructions, and disposition instructions based on the schedules. In the course of working with the staff to identify and organize their records, many individual training sessions were conducted.

Of course, we at NARA think this is all really important, but what did this effort accomplish for the Department of Transportation and its move? Quite a lot! RITA has been able to dispose of more than 500 cubic feet of records eligible for destruction because the retention period had passed. They also transferred more than 200 boxes to the Washington National Records Center. That's at least 700 boxes that they didn't have to move.

Perhaps more importantly, the records managers at RITA were able to demonstrate to the program offices and staff the value of good records management. Program Staff members now invariably check with the records management staff before they throw anything out, or for help resolving records management problems previously ignored. Many program officials told the records management staff that they were glad to see the establishment of such a program. They have seen the benefits and are very appreciative of the help they have received to get their records organized and to meet DOT move targets.

Here to accept the award for Outstanding Achievement in Records Management is Mr. Ashok Kaveeshwar, the Administrator for the Research and Innovative Technology Administration.

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) also faced a move. In its case, however, it did not merely move from one building to another. Instead, the agency consolidated approximately 1,400 people and their records from multiple locations into the new vital Defense Threat Reduction Center on which our security depends. A small issue at the time of the move: DTRA had not had an agency records officer or a records management program for several years. The task fell upon a records management program that had only been reactivated in 2003! Oh yes, no one involved in the move knew how many records existed or where they were. And oh yes, many of the records are national security classified.

The goals of the records management team were to remove non-records and personal papers, destroy records eligible for destruction, and retire inactive records to the Washington National Records Center. To save space, a portion of the active records was identified and scanned so that paper records could be retired to the records center, but program offices would still have easy access to them. They made it a priority to maintain control over the records during the move and to protect them from loss or damage.

Records management staff members needed to plan carefully, market the records management program, and conduct extensive records management training to make this move a success, which they did. They brought together a team of key players including the records officer and staff, managers, the Security and Counterintelligence Directorate, and CIO staff to develop the plan and help market records management. They developed posters, brochures, and videotapes as well as classroom and online training to get the word out and to make training readily available. Senior management supported the effort and made sure the staff adhered to procedures for the move.

Through the hard work of the agency records management staff members and their partners, they were able to successfully move 1,400 people plus 600,000 pages of records and make an additional 700,000 pages readily available as scanned images.

I am pleased to have Mr. Andrew Walker, Deputy Chief of Staff and one of the key players in the success of this project, accept the award for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

Imagine the challenges and opportunities in establishing a brand new Government agency. Imagine doing it in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The Transportation Security Administration faced the challenges and opportunities of setting up a records management program for that new agency, established by Congress on November 19 of that year. Anyone who has been in an airport in the past five years has seen the TSA workforce in action. Confronting the overwhelming documentation created by the new high-profile agency and its need to hire a completely new security-related workforce, TSA put together the fundamental elements of a successful records management program.

TSA began scheduling its records in 2002. Since then, the agency has

  • submitted over 39 records schedules covering 789 items;
  • issued a records policy and disposition manual that includes guidance relating to records management, forms, reports and directives management, file classification, vital records, electronic records, treatment of records containing personal information, and personal papers;
  • established records management control over the huge volume of job applications, screening files, and related personnel records;
  • transferred over 5,700 cubic feet of records to records centers; and
  • coordinated marketing and training activities.

The records management staff was able to accomplish all of this in such a short time because it had the support of senior level management at TSA. I am pleased to have with us today to accept the award for the Transportation Security Agency, Miss Susan T. Tracey, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Administration, Office of Finance and Administration.

Our fifth award goes to another agency intimately involved with the events and aftermath of September 11, 2001. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for the safety of civil aviation and operates the air traffic control system and navigation for both civil and military aircraft. FAA staff monitored and tracked aircraft in flight on that tragic day as on every day since.

In the days and months following September 11, FAA recognized the critical need to collect and preserve all of the agency's records relating to that day's events. I am pleased that Jeff Myers, the Manager of FAA's Systems Operations Litigation program, was able to participate in today's program and tell us about FAA's experiences and follow-up actions.

The FAA established a strict process to ensure that it was able to collect all of the records from a large number of facilities over a wide geographic area. Agency officials knew that the records would have high public interest and research value and that they needed to be able to provide enhanced access. To accomplish this, they created digital copies of all the original records and created indexes down to the individual item level.

The agency requested and received an approved schedule for these records in 2005. They were appraised as permanent. A significant portion of the original records has already been transferred to the National Archives as a pre-accession.

I am pleased to present the Archivist's Achievement Award to Katrina Thomas, FAA Records Officer, and the FAA in recognition of the agency's leadership in protecting and preserving the critical and sensitive documentation of this fateful day in American history.

To all of you in the audience today, thank you for your continuing efforts of behalf of the American public. NARA looks forward to continuing our partnership in managing and preserving the records of our democracy.