The Record - March 1998
Electronic Records Study Progresses
More than seventy government records officers and interested members of the public recently turned out for a wide-ranging discussion at the National Archives and Records Administration of the problems of managing, preserving, and providing access to government records in electronic forms.
Electronic records such as e-mail, word-processing files, and digital databases pose special problems for archivists and records managers because of the ease with which such records can be deleted, the instability of the computer disks and tapes on which they are generated, and the rapid obsolescence of the software and hardware on which they can be read. Records managers are under pressure from two sides, participants noted, to deal with these problems. The Federal Government itself wants to conducgt more of its business electronically. And the public is increasingly expecting to be able to access government records electronically.
Second Public Meeting
The meeting was the second public meeting of an Electronic Records Work Group formed last December by Archivist of the United States John Carlin. Charged by Mr. Carlin to "review issues relating to the creation, maintenance, and disposition of certain types of electronic information," the Work Group is focusing on what NARA calls General Records Schedule 20, which provides guidelines to federal agencies on the disposition of computer-generated material. Noting that GRS-20 needs changing to be sure that programmatic records are protected, that schedules for the disposition of records are record-oriented rather than medium-oriented, and that records schedules are devised so that federal agencies can and will use them, Mr. Carlin requested a final report with an implementation plan from the Work Group by next September 30.
"We are delighted with the turnout at today's meeting and the intensity of the discussion," declared Lewis Bellardo, Deputy Archivist of the United States, who joined the group's project director, Michael Miller, in chairing the proceedings. "This is a clear indication of the seriousness with which government records managers are taking electronic records issues. Together we are making real progress."
The Work Group itself consists of seven NARA staff members and eight federal agency officers. 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. NARA also lined up as outside consultants individuals whose expertise it wished to be sure of having available to the Work Group. And the Work Group has now welcomed input from others as well at two public meetings.
Encouraging Public Comment
To encourage additional contributions, NARA has established a special Web site, where anyone can get online access to information about the Work Group's activities, provide recommendations, and comment on products produced in the group's deliberations. The Work Group online.
In addition, notices are published in the Federal Register to provide information about the activities and products of the Work Group to those members of the public without Internet access.
"This is a clear indication of the seriousness with which government records managers are taking electronic records issues. Together we are making real progress."
Members of the Work Group include:
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; Dan Hocking, computer scientist, Army Research Laboratory; Eleanor Melamed, Department of Energy; Chris Olsen, chief, Records Classification and Management Group, Office of Information Management, C.I.A.; Alan Proctor, Department of the Treasury; and Catherine Teti, director for records management and information policy, Office of Thrift Supervision.
NARA Members: Michael L. Miller, director, Modern Records Programs; Nancy Allard, Policy and Communications Staff; Miriam Nisbet, special counsel; Susan Sallaway, Information Resources Policy and Projects Division; and Ken Thibodeau, Mark Giguere, and Jean Keeting of Modern Records 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, Bruce Evans of CRM/NS Ciber Consulting, Inc., 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.