Federal Records Management

NARA Invites Everyone Interested in the Future of Federal Information Management to Share Your Ideas for Improvement

While NARA believes that increased automation of electronic records management will help Federal agencies consistently capture and manage their electronic records while reducing the burden of records management tasks on end users, we also realize that more systemic changes to the way Federal information is managed may be required to meet the goals of the Directive and OMB Open Data policy in an efficient way.

Please send us your ideas about how a future information ecosystem should be set up to achieve maximum access, while protecting the information that needs to be protected, and ensuring that information is kept for the required length of time.

What will need to be different in the information itself, in the systems that manage it, and in the policies we will need to have? What steps could NARA take to help get us there?


The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) wants to make access happen, and we’d like to help build a world where everyone who should be able to find and use government information can access that information easily. Agency staff should have easy access to information that supports the agency’s mission. Members of the general public should have easy access to unrestricted public information. And information that is restricted to protect privacy, national security, or other legally protected rights, should not be easily accessible. We’re asking you to help us identify the steps we can take to help create this world. The obstacles to meeting the goal of efficient and effective access are significant.

One of the challenges is the sheer number of electronic records that the government must categorize, manage in compliance with the Federal Records Act, and review for information exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Traditional records management processes and reviews for restrictions and declassification are simply not keeping up. The result is that more and more records every year that could be released for public access are caught in processing backlogs at departments and agencies or at the National Archives.

Without radical change in Federal information and records management, these backlogs will increase exponentially. On a practical level, users will not have access to ever-increasing quantities of potentially releasable information. NARA believes this is unacceptable. Some examples illustrate the problems we face when traditional processes can no longer effectively make access happen, no matter how hard people work to manage information and make it available.

  • Declassification: The Public Interest Declassification Board estimated in 2012 that under the current human process, one intelligence agency would require two million additional employees to review the petabyte of information it is creating each year.

  • Protection of privacy information: Human review of records for privacy information, confidential business information, and other information exempt from FOIA release dramatically slows the release of unrestricted information by the National Archives and other agencies. This is the case both in responding to FOIA requests and as part of proactive processing and release of government records in normal archival processing.

  • Application of retention rules: Traditional records management tasks done by humans create bottlenecks in categorizing each record for appropriate records retention and disposition, delaying public access to high-value archival records.

The government needs new processes and needs to use technology to give everyone – government employee or member of the public – easy access to the government information he or she has the right to read. NARA believes the processes to capture, retain or destroy, search, categorize, restrict, protect, declassify, and publish information online should all happen as automatically as possible to maximize the consistency and speed of information access for all authorized users.

The Administration has kicked off a couple of major initiatives that will address many parts of this problem. One is the Executive Order “Making Open and Machine Readable the new Default for Government Information” released by OMB in May 2013, and the other is the Managing Government Records Directive issued by OMB and the Archivist of the United States in August 2012. These two initiatives reinforce each other and the ideal future model should both help increase open data and modernize information and records management.

The Managing Government Records Directive sets the deadline for managing all permanently valuable records electronically on December 31, 2019, and NARA wants to meet that deadline with a comprehensive strategy that supports the ultimate goal of vastly improved access to information.

In addition, Goal A3.1 of the Directive indicates that NARA seeks “economically viable automated records management solutions” that can “reduce the burden” of records management on government employees.

NARA is using this goal to address both immediate and long term needs:

  • In the short term, NARA is working to identify and increase use of tools that can automate the steps required to manage, categorize, review, and release electronic records. With use of effective tools and approaches, human process bottlenecks should no longer prevent access to so many potentially releasable records. The Vendor portion of this website has more information about this.

  • In the long term, NARA wants to address the root problem of providing efficient and effective access to huge volumes of electronic Federal records. We’re starting to gather input on the long-term possibilities now.

We encourage you to help us rethink the way the Federal government manages its information. We want to hear from individuals, archives, vendors, professional associations, computer science or library and information science students or classes, and anyone with an interest in records management, archives, transparency, open government, and access to information.

Systemic changes might solve more of the problems we face and give us greater government efficiency and effectiveness supported by openness, accountability, protection of citizen rights, and documentation of the national experience.

Let’s plan a future where we make access happen!

How can you participate?

  • We’ve posted sample questions that you may consider as you frame your response.

  • Write down your thoughts about the characteristics of a long-term solution and the steps it would take to get there.

  • Contributions can be as short as you want, but should not exceed 10 pages.

  • Submit papers in Open Document Format, MS Word, or PDF to PRMD@nara.gov .

  • Use the subject heading “A3.1 vision” in your email (A3.1 is the goal in the Presidential Directive that this project addresses.)

  • Contributions on this topic are welcome any time between June 2013 and September 30, 2014. There may be subsequent calls for participation as the initial plan is developed.

  • Contributions received by October 31, 2013, may influence the first version of the long-term plan due on 12/31/13 under Goal A3.1 in the Managing Government Records Directive.

What will happen after you submit your contribution?

  • NARA staff members working on the Managing Government Records Directive project will review your contribution for ideas that we can use in the A3.1 plan itself or in follow-on activities that will implement the plan.

  • Contributions received by October 31, 2013, may influence the first version of the long-term plan due on 12/31/13 under Goal A3.1 in the Managing Government Records Directive.

  • NARA staff will track the general topics of contributions to see if many people contribute the same recommendation.

  • NARA will make submissions publicly available in the spirit of open government. This website will be updated with plans and mechanisms for sharing input as planning progresses.

  • If you provide contact information with your contribution, we may contact you for follow-up questions or community discussions related to the theme of your contribution.

  • Thank you for engaging with us as we plan a future of more accessible government information!