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New Strategic Plan for NARA Sets Ambitious Goals

by David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States

A few months ago it was my pleasure to sign off on a document that will guide the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) into a bold future: our strategic plan for 2014 to 2018.

This is not a top-secret document or a mandated report to be dropped into a manila folder in a gray file cabinet. The strategic plan is NARA's road map to the future: a twenty-four-page document that spells out the four simple yet dynamic goals that we will pursue over the next five years.

To develop this plan we talked with our customers, staff, donors, stakeholders, and many others. I want to thank everyone, including the OAH and its members, for taking the time to read our draft plan and provide informed comments. The result is an ambitious plan that builds on the six outcomes of the transformation we have undergone in the past few years.

We will work as one NARA, not as component parts. We will be out in front in embracing the primacy of electronic information in all our work. NARA will foster a culture that results in an agency of leaders. We will turn NARA into a great place to work by empowering our staff—our most vital resource. We will focus on our customers and find ways to serve their needs more effectively. And NARA will be open to learn from others outside the government.

Some of the goals and initiatives in the new plan will not be fully achieved during this five-year planning cycle. Even so, it is important that the plan challenges and encourages our staff to stretch their vision. I want them to be bold, ambitious, and versatile. Our staff must be ready to try new initiatives to reach these goals, including:

Making access happen. This is the essence of what we do as the nation's record keeper. We plan to make accessible all of the born-digital records and as many of our twelve billion pages of traditional (paper) records as we can, as quickly as we can digitize them—beginning with the most requested ones. This is a lofty goal—a "stretch" goal indeed—but we need to have these kinds of goals to challenge us.

Connecting with customers. We want to engage our customers in what we do and be an example of open government. That way, we can respond to their needs sooner and more effectively, whether it is a request for records, attending a workshop or exhibit at one or our facilities, or commenting on a proposed federal regulation.

Maximizing NARA's value to the nation. As the steward of the nation's records, we lead the way for federal agencies to find more effective and less burdensome ways of managing and preserving
U.S. records and making them accessible. I believe this work will, in turn, elevate the status of NARA—and the archival profession—in the public's eye.

Building our future through our people. We will support our staff first by improving our internal communications so that everyone is fully informed by one or more of the channels we use to communicate with staff. We will also provide opportunities for training and education, mentoring, and crosstraining so that everyone can find a career path at NARA that will ensure we have the skills we will need in the future to make our staff invaluable assets to the agency.

This last goal is especially important. Key to the success of our strategic plan is our dedicated staff of more than three thousand individuals working in more than forty NARA facilities around
the country.

The staff at NARA is a diverse group of incredibly talented individuals who love what they do and do it well, which is one reason I have such respect for them. People I meet in my travels often say that the archives has some wonderful treasures in its vaults. Our greatest treasures, however, are the ones who go home at night—our staff. They will ensure the success of this plan.

We have established our goals, some of  them "stretch" goals. Whether we reach those goals or not, what is most important now is that we begin the journey. Please let us know how we are doing.

OAH Responds to NARA's Draft Strategic Plan

In response to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) open comment period on its draft strategic plan, the OAH presented the archivist with comments on several key points. Read the full response from the OAH.

  • Access and Record Processing: The OAH applauds NARA's priority of making government documents accessible to the public. However, we note with some concern that there is a considerably large backlog of documents that have yet to be declassified . . . to comply with the presidential executive order.
  • Staffing: At a time when more and more of the records being transferred to NARA from government agencies are digital, it is imperative that staff receive the required support to enable them to cultivate and maintain the same high degree of expertise in the digital collections for which they are responsible that they have traditionally maintained in paper collections 
  • Digitization's Challenges: The OAH strongly urges inclusion of historians in the decision-making process. Convening panels including historians to exercise oversight in the process is
    one possible solution.
  • Staffing: At a time when more and more of the records being transferred to NARA from government agencies are digital, it is imperative that staff receive the required support to enable them to cultivate and maintain the same high degree of expertise in the digital collections for which they are responsible that they have traditionally maintained in paper collections.
  • Digitization's Challenges: The OAH strongly urges inclusion of historians in the decision-making process. Convening panels including historians to exercise oversight in the process is one possible solution.

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 tenth 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.