OAH Home Donate to OAH Join the OAH


NARA Assumes Expanded Role in Federal Records Management

by David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is about to experience a sea change in the way it oversees the management and preservation of government records. This change is a result of a directive from me and the acting head of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). This is our response to the president’s mandate to reform records management for the twenty-first century as delivered in his Memorandum on Records Management. In it, the president outlines his goal to require departments and agencies to manage all of their permanently valuable records in electronic form by the end of the decade to ensure transparency, efficiency, and accountability in government.

This comprehensive directive is important as it places NARA among the first national archival institutions in the world to establish that from a date certain, we will require that agencies transfer newly created permanent records to us in digital form only. Complying with the directive will result in a major overhaul of the way the federal government manages and preserves the records being created today and for years to come. For federal agencies and departments, the directive also sends a strong message about the importance of electronic records. It requires each agency to designate a high-ranking official to oversee its records management programs and to ensure that all appropriate staff receive records management training. And it creates a modern and robust records management framework that will allow reform while complying with existing laws and regulations.

We make clear that all agencies must manage their records, including e-mails, in electronic format by the end of the decade. But we’ll still be taking in traditional, paper records. Regardless of their format, all records, traditional and electronic, are important to our democracy.

“Records are the foundation of open government, supporting the principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration,” Acting OMB Director Jeffrey D. Zients and I say in the directive. “Well-managed records can be used to assess the impact of programs, to improve business processes, and to share knowledge across the government.”

The deadlines for complying with various parts of the directive are spread over the coming years. Overall, the directive lists a dozen actions to be taken by NARA and other agencies to assist federal departments and agencies in meeting the new requirements. Among the highlights of the directive are:

Among the most important directives will be our work with the Office of Personnel Management to establish a formal records management occupational series to elevate records management roles, responsibilities, and skill sets for agency records officers and other records professionals.

For further information and discussion about this directive, please follow Records Express, the blog of NARA’s Office of the Chief Records Officer at http://blogs.archives.gov/records-express/.

As the president said in his charge to us to reform recordkeeping: “When records are well managed, agencies can use them to assess the impact of programs, to reduce redundant efforts, to save money, and to share knowledge within and across their organizations. In these ways, proper records management is the backbone of open government.”

Preserving and making accessible the records of our government is the heart of our mission at the National Archives. We look forward to working with agencies throughout the government and with the OAH and our other stakeholders to implement these goals in the years to come.

Join the Archivist of the United States at his blog at http://blogs.archives.gov/aotus and visit the National Archives Web site at http://www.archives.gov.

About the Archivist

David S. Ferriero is the 10th Archivist of the United States. Prior to his confirmation on November 6, 2009, Ferriero served as the Andrew W. Mellon Director of the New York Public Libraries.