About the National Archives

ARMA International 2007 Conference

Remarks by Allen Weinstein, Archivist of the United States
October 8, 2007, Baltimore, MD

Good morning, and thank you for that kind introduction. We at the National Archives and Records Administration value our relationship with ARMA International as we work on records management issues that affect us all. Together, the National Archives, ARMA, and others are seeking ways to further highlight the critical importance of records management and to prepare records and information managers for a future of electronic records that must be preserved and made accessible for generations to come.

As you probably know, the National Archives is now operating under a new Strategic Plan which I spearheaded and which will take the agency through the year 2016. This morning I would like to use my few minutes at the podium to talk about three of the plan’s major directions that may be particularly relevant for this audience:

  • addressing the challenges of Federal electronic records;

  • eliminating the backlog of unprocessed records, including classified records; and

  • expanding NARA’s leadership and services in managing the national government’s records.

Let me bring you up to date on some of the activities at the National Archives and Records Administration related to these issues.

For a number of years, we have been planning, and we are now building, an Electronic Records Archives, or ERA, to store and make accessible the electronic records of the federal government that have been created and will continue to grow in future.

The ERA is moving toward a launch next May. The first pilot of the system was delivered to us just last week, slightly ahead of schedule, and we will now enter a testing phase involving records schedules, transfer plans, and transfer requests. Then, the records transfer process and business functions will be tested.

Developing the era with our partner, Lockheed Martin Corporation, has been a learning experience for both NARA and Lockheed. We are confident that at the end of the testing phase, we will have resolved any and all problems and will be ready on schedule to accept the federal government’s electronic records.

The ERA will require new skills on the part of information and records managers. NARA recently reinvented its records manager training program to include the electronic records management skills needed in the digital future. Currently, we are working with ARMA and others in exploring innovative ways to deliver this training content via the Internet and other means.

At the same time, the National Archives and ARMA staff—with records managers from around the world—are working together on international standards for records management. This work is important to both governments and private industry, as institutions perceive records and information as assets to be managed, and records and information management as a way to manage risk associated with these valuable assets.

NARA is also developing a new web-based interface system through which Federal Records Centers can do business with their customers in an easier and more timely fashion. We call it ARCIS, for Archives and Records Centers Information System. We expect this system to reduce operating costs at the Federal Records Centers, improve customer satisfaction, automate some of the paperwork, and generally help streamline business processes. ARCIS is now in the development stage, and incremental implementation is anticipated next year and in 2009.

Although the Congress has not yet passed the appropriations bill containing NARA’s FY 2008 funding, the House has passed our budget, and the Senate version is ready for floor debate. Both bills provide a general increase in funding for NARA. And both will allow the restoration of hours of operation at our research facilities. Both also provide continued funding for the ERA, and the House has even included funds to allow us to hire additional staff to handle a huge backlog of unprocessed records.

As you know, the aim of effective and professional records management is to be able to provide and to expedite access to the records when needed. At the National Archives, our primary mission is to preserve and provide access to the records we hold for the American people—records that help to hold government officials accountable for their actions, that guarantee citizens’ rights and government benefits, and that tell the story of America.

The National Archives works on many fronts to increase access to these records. Let me mention a few:

  • On requests made under the Freedom of Information act, or FOIA: In the fiscal year that ended September 30, we have significantly improved our performance rate in responding to FOIA requests for access to Federal records. And over the last two years, nearly three-quarters of all FOIA requests were completed by NARA staff in 10 working days—half the time required by law.

  • As to classified records: Since NARA is under Presidential mandate to declassify as many as possible classified records that are 25 years or older, it has reorganized staff to double the number of people assigned to declassification. But we still cannot process these records fast enough. To meet the deadline, we will need some refinements in our processing system, an adjustment of the deadline, significant increases in staff—or all of the above.

  • Access to certain Presidential records has also increased of late. In July, the National Archives accepted into its system of Presidential libraries the privately run Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, CA. This completes NARA’s Presidential collections from Herbert Hoover to Bill Clinton. And it will eventually bring all the records of Nixon’s life under one roof, once all materials are moved to Yorba Linda, pending the construction of a new archival wing.

  • A critical access tool is the NARA web site, www.archives.gov. Every day, we offer more and more of our holdings through the Internet—images of documents and current exhibits, historical film footage and still images, articles and finding aids for records. We invite you to visit this web site, or even better, stop by and see us at our headquarters on the National Mall in Washington, DC.

A final word: I support a proposal by ARMA International to include records and information managers as a distinct occupational classification. ARMA made this proposal in May of this year to the Standard Occupational Classification Policy Committee. We understand the standard occupational classes for 2010 are intended to be completed by the end of 2008.

In today’s world, government organizations at all levels, as well as private industry and other institutions, recognize records and information as important business assets that must be effectively managed to support the day-to-day operation and long-term success of any enterprise. Records and information managers are essential to managing, preserving, and making available these assets—in current business operations and for future generations.

Records and information management, especially for information in an electronic format, starts at the very moment a document or artifact is conceptualized. Decisions about the format and media are just the beginning of the process to ensure that documentation is appropriately and systematically managed to ensure economy and efficiency throughout its useful life. It is a career field that is strong today and will only grow stronger as the volume of information increases exponentially and the demand for content and knowledge management grows.

As the nation’s record keeper, the National Archives and Records Administration ensures the continuity and effective operation of Federal programs through our leadership and services in managing the government's records. As you know, we work very closely with the federal information and records management community, as well as with international and corporate records and information management organizations, to support and enhance this field. Therefore, I know other professional groups would join with me in this recommendation.

NARA stands ready to provide more detailed observations on this issue.

Thank you very much.