SUMMIT DISCUSSION STARTERS : LUSENET : Federal Information and Records Managers Council : One Thread


Much of Federal Records Management is just good common sense. Many of the functions performed routinely by Federal Records Management staff are mandated by Federal law, recommended by agencies with oversight of some aspect of federal record keeping or suggested by professional associations or leading industry consultants. However, in a vibrant information environment that is characterized by rapid change, there is often a gap between the time cost effective and responsible strategies and solutions are developed and those same functions are codified in statute or agreed upon by formal institutions. The following discussion starters are examples of issues which might (or might not) guide FIRM members in establishing criteria for managing records at all phases of the life cycle during the interim between common sense and the fruits of the consensus building process. These discussion starters are to be taken as "ideas on the table." They may be modified and refined in the future and may frequently be amended to reflect alterations in the political reality of community perceptions. They are not intended to be authoritarian pronouncements. Rather, they are intended to provoke discussion, fill the statutory vacuum and lead to uniform and consistent record keeping practices throughout the federal government.

1. The decision to convert scheduled record information from one format to another should never be taken without first conducting a formal cost / benefit analysis.

2. Federal information that has been scheduled for permanent retention and that is stored on electronic media should ONLY be retrievable with non-proprietary software.

3. All Federal records stored in paper format should be physically obtainable by its primary customer within twenty-four hours of a request being made.

4. You cannot appraise an electronic system of records without understanding that systems context - how it fits in (is integrated) with other systems in the business processes of a federal agency. Many systems of federal record in FY99 are in multiple formats / media.

5. The success of knowledge management software depends upon an appreciation for the nuances associated with the concept of corporate ownership of data. Public documents should be accessible using shared federal metadata standards.

6. Federal Webmasters should focus their attention not on building faster cars, but on building better highways. Search engines are only effective in finding what a user wants IF the accuracy and integrity of the information they index is controlled and safeguarded.

7. Before any electronic records management system is designed or installed, a thorough assessment should be made of the existing paper system. If an evaluation of the manual system shows that performance in the creation, maintenance, use and disposition of the record could be improved, this should be done prior to the writing of a single functional requirement for an automated system. If the paper system has problems (lack of access points, inability to determine what should or should not be retained, etc...) then the automation of that system will only result in the duplication (and often multiplication) of those problems. All electronic record systems should be scheduled for disposition BEFORE they are put into production. The "value" of electronic records is not necessarily that same as that of their paper counterparts.

8. As a society we have spent trillions of dollars trying to get electronic images and text to look and function in the same way as their paper forebearers. That probably isn't what we really want. These two media are very different and both have record advantages and disadvantages. Effective records managers rejoice in their "distinguishability." The moment we mistake one for the other will be tragic because we will have lost the best of both. Paper records are portable, stable and tangible. Electronic records are manipulable, compressable and pretty. Paper records are organic, humanly compatible, and historically viable for preservation. Electronic records are ephemeral, machine compatible and historically suspect. Human record keeping is not as much about truth as vanity. We want to keep most what makes us look good.

9. All retired paper files retired to inactive storage must be indexed at least at the box level.

10. Federal Records Management is most successful when it packages itself as a SERVICE not as a commodity. Federal Records Management is more about the process of assisting federal agency's fullfill their mission than it is about counting the number of boxes, bit and bytes.

11. In technology areas where no federal statutory standards exist the FIRM recommends the following:  all image files be stored in BIFF format  all electronic document management systems follow ODMA standards  all archival finding aids be MARC-AMC compatible

12. If a single record series is maintained in multiple formats throughout an organization, then a central finding aid in one format MUST be maintained by the Records Manager and designated as the "Copy of Record".

13. Preservation = Transportation. The value of maintaining information in any record keeping format or system is directly related to the ease and cost of migrating that information to constantly up datable technology over time without significant data degradation.

14. The primary media used to create information should be the medium which can most cost effectively maintain the information throughout its life cycle. (ie. if created electronically - then its best preservation is electronic)

15. All federal agency e-mail systems should be able to segregate mail (sent from and received into) 3 categories: 1) agency record, 2) transmittal of agency non-record information, and 3) non-agency, non-federal personal paper; and be able to link the agency record to its appropriately scheduled series.

16. Federal agency information infrastructure should ALWAYS be developed with interagency exchange as a primary functional component.

17. There should be a direct one on one correlation between each (statutorily assigned - legislatively mandated) unique substantive function of an agency and the record series which documents that activity in order to meet the requirements for "proper and adequate documentation."

18. Since effective agency disaster recovery programs do not exist in a vacuum. A central federal agency (NARA, FEMA, GSA, etc...) should provide context and coordination for all federal disaster recovery activities.

19. Until every American citizen has universal, free access to the tools necessary to interact in an electronic environment with their government, a democratic government will never be able to mandate electronic record keeping or electronic commerce. As we enter the next millennium more and more record series will be multi-media and more and more records will be appraised as ephemeral because the cost of their permanent preservation will be too high.

20. The paperless office is a utopian myth. Paper will not completely disappear from the federal workplace for at least the next fifty years.

-- Anonymous, June 08, 1999

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