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NARA Previews Next Few Years of Records Digitization

Through its strategic plan, the agency is embracing strategies to embrace a fully digital government.

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Record Digitization
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With the call for agencies to move to electronic record-keeping on the horizon, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) said it plans to discuss with other federal stakeholders how to give more flexibility to organizations that might have struggled with technology implementations during the pandemic.

“One of the things I’m not able to announce now is if we’re going to be able to extend the targets and what those targets are going to be; however, I can assure you that it is on our radar, and just want to make a note that NARA itself cannot independently revise the requirements in the memo. It’s going to take some discussions with OMB, but we’re prepared to have those discussions and see what we can do to introduce some flexibility into where we are as a result of all the pain we’ve felt working in this pandemic,” said NARA Chief Records Officer Laurence Brewer during an FCW virtual event on electronic records management.

In the mean time, the agency’s newly released five-year strategic plan draft incorporates digitization goals to prepare agencies for the memorandum next year. Those goals include: make access happen, connect with customers, maximize NARA’s value to the nation and build the future through people.

“Looking back on the past two years, and all of the challenges we’ve had from the pandemic, we’ve learned a lot about how to be flexible as an agency and really try to incorporate some of the lessons from how we’ve had to work over the past year and a half into some of the thinking behind our strategic plan,” said Brewer.

While in some ways COVID-19 accelerated the transition to a digital government by adopting new technologies and shifting to a virtual environment, there have been new obstacles, like limited access to record centers, which have created barriers as agencies try meet the 2022 targets.

The pandemic also highlighted the importance of collaboration and partnerships. NARA’s guidance will focus on the types of tools agencies are using to work together, collaborate, and identify and surface the records management implications of new tools.

“One of the things we’re going to be working on, along with other guidance that we’re developing, is doing some assessments with agencies on what does the data tell us about those types of tools that are being used,” Brewer said. “Then maybe we can take that data and see if there’s guidance that we need to develop or gaps that we need to plug to make sure that we’re working together and make sure that the records are being properly managed.”

Since 2012, NARA has supported various OMB memos and has been spearheading the mindset of a fully digital government to eliminate reliance on paper and foster cross-agency collaboration for the future of records management. As part of its new strategic plan, NARA will focus on its third goal (maximize NARA’s value to the nation) to better support its records management priorities.

“Goal three is where records management fundamentally lies,” Brewer said. “The first goal here is where most of the records management will be done. Our objective is that NARA will provide the policy requirements and oversight to support a transparent and inclusive fully digital government.”

Under the plan, NARA will develop more guidance and regulation on digitization. The agency will continue to digitize permanent analog records, but NARA plans to develop more solutions to digitize special formats to standardized records.

“We want to take a really hard look at all of 36 CFR Subchapter B, which is where NARA’s records management regulations are, and see what we need to do to bring it up to date, to incorporate digital records and digital government strategies, and really make it more progressive and more forward-looking. There’s a lot of work that’s going to be done there, and it’s certainly going to continue over the next several years,” Brewer said.

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