Press Release nr98-33
Press Release · Friday, December 19, 1997

Washington, DC

Press Release
December 19, 1997

Agency Experts Join National Archives to Work on Electronic Records Problems Government-Wide

Washington, DC -- Government records experts today answered a call made less than a month ago by Archivist of the United States John W. Carlin to join the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in a concerted inter-agency effort to solve problems in managing mounting quantities of electronic records.

Records professionals from federal agencies met with specialists from the staff of the National Archives and Records Administration at the National Archives facility in College Park, Maryland, to form the Electronic Records Work Group announced by Archivist Carlin on November 21. Deputy U.S. Archivist Lewis J. Bellardo chaired the meeting, which also had input by teleconference arrangements from outside consultants with electronic records expertise and experience in universities, state governments, and other organizations. Additionally, interested members of the public and of federal agencies attended the meeting, which had been publicly announced.

Charged to "review issues relating to the creation, maintenance, and disposition of certain types of electronic information," the Work Group focused on what NARA calls General Records Schedule 20, which provides guidelines to federal agencies on the disposition of e-mail, word-processing files, and other computer-generated material.

"GRS-20 needs changing," Archivist Carlin declared in calling the group together. "I believe that general records schedules definitely have their place, but they should be applied to the disposition of routine administrative ‘housekeeping’ records, not to programmatic records. Moreover, while records can be transferred from one medium to another, this should not be done carte blanche. Key contextual information must be preserved in the process, and the retention scheduling of records should be record-oriented rather than medium-oriented. All of this should be done in such a way as to accomplish the desired overall result -- to preserve records appropriately with retention and disposition schedules that federal agencies, the creators of these records, can and will use.

"I’m delighted at how quickly and enthusiastically this group has come together," Carlin continued. "This shows that federal agencies recognize both the urgency of electronic records problems and their existence government-wide. We now have the right people together to deal with issues of critical importance to all Americans who will need access to important government records created in electronic forms."

The Work Group received a set of detailed issues proposed for discussion by the group’s project director, Michael Miller, who heads the NARA unit that advises federal agencies on records management. Miller also identified resources and models on which to draw in dealing with records disposition issues. He asked that members of the Work Group and consultants to the project recommend additions to, or other changes in, the issues to be discussed and the list of resources and models by January 9, 1998. In the meantime, Miller said he will try to work out an acceptable time in the last half of January for the Work Group to assemble again for a substantive, all-day meeting, to include time for comments from public observers. Archivist Carlin has asked the Work Group to prepare recommendations by next July 1, with a final report including an implementation plan to be issued by the end of September 1998.

Members were invited to participate in the Work Group not as representatives of agencies but as records professionals whose experience with automated information would be useful in the group’s deliberations. Also NARA lined up as outside consultants individuals whose expertise it wished to be sure of having available to the Work Group. However, Archivist Carlin expressed the hope that help will come from others as well. To encourage other contributions, NARA has established a special Web site, where anyone can get on-line access to information about the Work Group’s activities, provide recommendations, and comment on products produced in the group’s deliberations. The Work Group’s internet address is
. Also there will be notices in the Federal Register about where people without internet access can get information on activities of the Work Group and materials produced by it.

The following persons are members of the Work Group. FEDERAL AGENCY MEMBERS: Edward Barrese, records officer, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation; Maya Bernstein, Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, O.M.B.; Elizabeth Behal, departmental records officer, Department of Agriculture; Edward Cohen, director of information, C.I.A.; Dan Hocking, computer scientist, Army Research Laboratory; Eleanor Melamed, Department of Energy; Alan Proctor, chief information officer, Federal Trade Commission; and Catherine Teti, director for records management and information policy, Office of Thrift Supervision. NARA MEMBERS: Lewis J. Bellardo, deputy archivist of the U.S.; Michael L. Miller, director, Records Management Programs; Nancy Allard, Policy and Communications Staff; Miriam Nisbett, special counsel for electronic records; Ken Thibodeau, director, Center for Electronic Records; and Mark Giguere and Jean Keeting of Records Management Programs. NON-FEDERAL EXPERTS who have agreed to be consultants on the project are Rick Barry of Barry Associates, Luciana Duranti of the University of British Columbia, Margaret Hedstrom of the University of Michigan, James Henderson of the Maine State Archives, Alan Kowlowitz of the New York State Archives and Records Administration, John McDonald of the National Archives of Canada, Charles Robb of the Kentucky Department for Library and Archives, and Robert Williams of Cohasset Associates.

For additional PRESS information, please contact the National Archives Public Affairs staff at (301) 837-1700 or e-mail


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