From the Archivist of the United States
07/29/2015 12:00 am
By David S. Ferriero
Archivist of the United States
This spring was a special time at the
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). It was our 30th
birthday as an independent agency.
Archivist Robert Warner
(1980–1985) had made it his top priority to free the Archives from the
General Services Administration and make NARA an independent agency
within the executive branch. He succeeded, and we became independent
April 1, 1985.
On “independence day,” NARA’s work was mostly
organizing, preserving, and providing access to what we call traditional
records: photographs, maps, charts—and billions and billions of pages
But as we turn 30, we face a challenge that few could
have foreseen in 1985: how to manage the mammoth amount of electronic
records created daily in the Federal Government—and, in particular, one
kind of electronic record:
Tens of billions of email
messages are created every year in the Federal Government. Some of them
contain sensitive policy discussions by top officials. Some record the
details of daily, routine government business throughout all agencies
and departments. Some set up meetings, lunch dates, or a ride home.
of their content, they need to be managed. With a mandate from the
President, our records management staff has been meeting with
recordkeeping staffs throughout the government to find and develop ways
to preserve emails.
When email first became common in our workday
lives, the way to preserve them was “print and file.” But today,
Federal employees are too busy and not always equipped with the
expertise to decide which ones to preserve.
For our part, we have
asked the software industry to create automated systems that will take
staff decision-making out of the process and separate the permanent,
“historically important” emails from those that do not need to be saved.
we have not been waiting for the private sector to come up with a
solution. Already, we have created an email management system called
Capstone. Under Capstone, the agency designates a number of senior
officials as “Capstone officials” and saves all their email as permanent
records. Emails from all other agency employees are viewed as temporary
and saved for only an appropriate amount of time.
We are now
using Capstone at NARA and will base our guidance on our experiences
with it. For the past four years, we have worked with the White House to
require all agencies to adopt by 2016 Capstone or a comparable approach
for managing emails.
Birthdays mean gifts, and we got an early one
from Congress late last year in the form of amendments to the 1950
Federal Records Act and the 1978 Presidential Records Act that update
these laws, which are our basic recordkeeping statutes.
amendments expand the definition of a Federal record to include
electronic records. And it grants me and my successors as Archivist of
the United States the authority to determine what constitutes a Federal
Congress was also helpful to us when it came to emails.
Now, the law requires officials who use non-official email accounts to
copy or forward those emails into their official accounts within 20 days
or be subject to disciplinary actions. Use of a non-official email
account should only be used as a last resort.
involving electronic recordkeeping are not unique to the Federal
Government. Universities, corporations, and privately owned businesses
all wrestle with similar issues.
But the challenges for records
and information management professionals are clear: the volume of
electronic records being created is enormous; providing access to these
records is difficult and critical; and forecasting what will be
“historically important” requires a blend of art and science.
at NARA are an essential resource to other government departments and
agencies. We provide training, guidance, and structure for modernizing
and reforming records management. We are working with all Federal
agencies to ensure that our national treasures—in paper and electronic
form—are saved for future generations.
As the leader in the
government’s effort to solve the email management problem, we are
committed to sharing with NAGARA and all our stakeholders the solutions
we develop and adopt. We will use these solutions to help non-government
entities meet the same challenges posed by emails and electronic
records in general.