The paperless office has long been a goal of agencies and organizations, as reducing the reliance on paper records remains a key component of the digital transformation. Going back to 2011, the “Presidential Memorandum – Managing Government Records” began outlining a process to reform records management policy and practices to “develop a 21st-century framework for the management of Government records.” Fast forward to 2020, and agencies now have a looming deadline. The M-19-21 memorandum mandates that all records are created, converted and transferred to the national archives and records administration (NARA) in electronic format by end of 2022.
Specifically, the M-19-21 memorandum outlines two key goals:
- Ensure that all federal records are created, retained, and managed in electronic formats, with appropriate metadata; and
- Consistent with records management laws and regulations, develop plans to close agency-operated storage facilities for paper and other, analog records, and transfer those records to Federal Records Centers operated by NARA or commercial storage facilities.
When considering the vast and ever-increasing volumes of data constantly created by the federal government (not to mention the records currently in existence) it is easy to understand the need for such action. As the memorandum states:
The Federal Government spends hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars and thousands of hours annually to create, use, and store Federal records in analog (paper and other non-electronic) formats. Maintaining large volumes of analog records requires dedicated resources, management attention, and security investments that should be applied to more effectively managing electronic records. The processes that create analog records increase burden on citizens by requiring them to conduct business with the Government in person or by mail, rather than online, and trap valuable Federal data in paper records where it can only be extracted manually and at great expense.
- White House M-19-21 Memorandum
The need, however, does not make the reality any easier to embrace. Agencies must both find a way to convert legacy records from paper to digital, and put in place processes that ensure all records going forward are created digitally. Working with constrained budgets, needing to educate personnel, having to develop new processes and choosing the appropriate technology, all contribute to the complexity of achieving this goal by the established deadline.
Compounding this issue, the Covid-19 pandemic has slowed progress across the board on a number of initiatives that agencies had planned for this year. And while the NARA is “sympathetic to the challenges agencies are facing during the current health crisis … the targets set for federal agencies in 2022 are not imminent and do not require adjusting at this point.”
However, there is help available. NARA has established the federal electronic records modernization initiative (FERMI) with a goal to provide guidance navigating the NARA electronic records compliance statutes, providing a government-wide, modern, cost-effective, standardized, and interoperable set of records management solutions and services to Federal agencies.
Next month, we will discuss how UNICOM’s columbus suite of products can provide the high-performance enterprise content management system necessary for your digital transformation and act as the cornerstone of your electronic records transition plan.
The Blog of the Chief Records Officer for the U.S. Government: