About the National Archives

Society of American Archivists article "Ensuring Relevancy for the 21st Century and Beyond"

November 2017

In the first year of each administration, Federal agencies revise their strategic plans and outline goals for the next four years. We posted our draft Strategic Plan for review and comment in August. 

The high-level goals of Make Access Happen, Connect with Customers, Maximize NARA’s Value to the Nation, and Build Our Future through Our People are unchanged from the current strategic plan. These are core principles we will continue to embrace and continuously strive to achieve. The revisions are the addition of specific and measurable targets under each goal.

One specific target, attached to Goal 3 of Maximize NARA’s Value to the Nation, attracted a large portion of the comments we received. This target reads: “By December 31, 2022, NARA will, to the fullest extent possible, no longer accept transfers of permanent or temporary records in analog formats and will accept records only in electronic format and with appropriate metadata.”

At first glance, this target seems to mark a radical shift forward. And to some extent, it is. However, this target is rooted in work under way, and largely accomplished, since 2011. In November 2011, the Obama administration issued a Memorandum on Managing Government Records. This Memorandum outlined a clear commitment to establishing a 21st-century framework for the management of government records, with an emphasis on electronic records. As a result of this Memorandum, NARA and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) jointly issued our transformative Managing Government Records Directive in August of 2012.

I have written about this Directive many times and reported on the key progress we have been making to achieve all of the goals it contains. One of the few remaining goals for us to reach from the Directive is Goal 1.1: “By December 31, 2019, all permanent electronic records in Federal agencies will be managed electronically to the fullest extent possible for eventual transfer and accessioning by NARA in an electronic format.”

Federal agencies have been reporting to us their progress toward meeting this target over the years. These reports are available on our website. From them, you can see the transformation to electronic recordkeeping is well under way with 98% of all agencies reporting that they are optimistic about meeting Goal 1.1. The new target in the Strategic Plan recognizes this and builds on that progress to position us for the 21st century. Sure, this is a significant change in the way we conduct business, but it is not new. We will continue to work with Federal agencies to ensure that policies and procedures supporting this transition are clearly in place and they have a clear understanding of how we intend to implement our target.

Already, since the first draft was issued on our GitHub site, we have been making changes to this target. We added the phrase “to the fullest extent possible” based on extensive feedback from both our staff, Federal agencies, and the general public. We modified the language of this objective to recognize that NARA may need to accept a limited number of analog records after the December 31, 2022, deadline. For example, treaties from the State Department with formal seals and signatures may be transferred in their paper form.

After additional review and input from the OMB, we will finalize our new Strategic Plan in early 2018. This target of accepting records only in electronic format may seem a significant challenge and is a change to the way we have traditionally operated. However, as the Nation’s recordkeeper, we need to respond to changes in the way the Government creates records. These changes will ensure the National Archives is relevant well into the 21st century and beyond.