National Archives 2014-02-11 11:16:25
Can you imagine a future in which valuable federal government information in electronic format is easy to find and automatically available to anyone with the right to see it? Agency staffers, the public, journalists, historians, lawyers, students, scientists—anyone, present or future. Can you imagine providing this kind of access in a timely way while also protecting individual privacy, confidential business information, national security, and other legally protected interests, for as long as required but no longer? How can we build that future? The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) wants to make access happen, and this is the kind of world we’d like to help build. We’re asking you to help us identify the steps we can take to get there. Challenges to Overcome Meeting the goal of efficient and effective access means overcoming significant obstacles. One of the challenges is the sheer number of electronic records that the government must categorize, manage in compliance with the Federal Records Act, and review for information exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Traditional records management processes and reviews for restrictions and declassification are simply not keeping up. The result is that more and more records every year that could be released for public access are caught in processing backlogs at departments and agencies or at the National Archives. Without radical change in federal information and records management, these backlogs will increase exponentially. On a practical level, users will not have access to ever-increasing quantities of potentially releasable information. NARA believes this is unacceptable. In the words of Paul Wester, the chief records officer for the U.S. government, “The processes we developed for paper records just aren’t working in the current digital environment. We have a new mandate from the Administration to really open up government information—using both the growing number of existing tools and creative new thinking. It’s time to take this opportunity and develop a strategy that gets better results.” Some examples illustrate the problems we face when traditional processes can no longer effectively make access happen, no matter how hard people work to manage information and make it available. • Declassification: The Public Interest Declassification Board estimated in 2012 that under the current human process, one intelligence agency would require two million additional employees to review the pet abyte of information it is creating each year. • Protection of privacy information: Human review of records for privacy information, confidential business information, and other information exempt from FOIA release dramatically slows the release of unrestricted information by the National Archives and other agencies. This is the case both in responding to FOIA requests and as part of proactive processing and release of government records in normal archival processing. • Application of retention rules: Traditional records management processes create bottlenecks in categorizing each record for appropriate records retention and disposition, delaying public access to high-value archival records. Finding Solutions The government needs new processes and needs to use technology to give everyone— government employee or member of the general public—easy access to the government information he or she has the right to read. NARA believes the processes to capture, retain or destroy, search, categorize, restrict, protect, declassify, and publish information online should all happen as automatically as possible to maximize the consistency and speed of information access for all authorized users. The Obama Administration kicked off major initiatives that will address many parts of this problem. One is the Executive Order “Making Open and Machine Readable the New Default for Government Information” released by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in May 2013 (http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-pressoffice/ 2013/05/09/executive-order-makingopen- and-machine-readable-new-defaultgovernment-), and the other is the Managing Government Records Directive (http:// www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/ omb/memoranda/2012/m-12-18.pdf) issued by OMB and the Archivist of the United States in August 2012. These two initiatives reinforce each other, and the ideal future model should both help increase open data and modernize information and records management. The Managing Government Records Directive sets the deadline of December 31, 2019, for managing all permanently valuable records electronically. NARA wants to meet that deadline with a comprehensive strategy that supports the ultimate goal of vastly improved access to information. In addition, Goal A3.1 of the Directive indicates that NARA will seek “economically viable automated records management solutions” that can “reduce the burden” of records management on government employees. NARA is using this goal to address both immediate and long-term needs: 1) In the short term, NARA is working to identify and increase use of tools that can automate the steps required to manage, categorize, review, and release electronic records. With use of effective tools and approaches, human process bottlenecks should no longer prevent access to so many potentially releasable records. In support of this effort, starting this year, NARA will gather and share information from federal agencies and vendors about automated approaches and solutions available now, along with hurdles and risks to their implementation. The project website mentioned later in this article has more detail on how vendors can participate and how the records and information community can learn what’s available. 2) In the long term, NARA wants to address how to provide efficient and effective access to huge volumes of electronic federal records. We’re starting to gather input on the long-term possibilities now. We encourage you to help us rethink the way the federal government manages its information. We want to hear from individuals; archives students and professionals; vendors; professional associations; computer science or library and information science students or classes; and anyone with an interest in transparency, open government, and access to information. Systemic changes might solve more of the problems we face and give us greater government efficiency and effectiveness supported by openness, accountability, protection of citizen rights, and documentation of the national experience. Let’s plan a future where we make access happen! Here’s How You Can Participate • Visit our website http://www.archives .gov/records-mgmt/prmd.html for more information about this project. We’ve posted questions that you may consider as you frame your response. • Write down your thoughts about the characteristics of a long-term solution and the steps it would take to get there. • Contributions can be as short as you want, but should not exceed ten pages. • Submit papers in Open Document Format or as a Microsoft Word document or PDF to PRMD@nara.gov. • Use the subject heading “A3.1 vision” in your email. (A3.1 is the goal in the Presidential Directive that this project addresses.) • Contributions on this topic are welcome any time between June 2013 and September 30, 2014. There may be subsequent calls for participation as the initial plan is developed. • Contributions received by October 31, 2013, may influence the first version of the long-term plan due on December 31, 2013, under Goal A3.1 in the Managing Government Records Directive. What Happens After You Submit Your Contribution? • NARA staff members working on the Managing Government Records Directive project will review your contribution for ideas that we can use in the A3.1 plan itself or in follow-up activities that will implement the plan. • NARA staff will track the general topics of contributions to identify trends in the recommendations. • NARA will make submissions publicly available in the spirit of open government. Consult http://www .archives.gov/records-mgmt/prmd.html for information about plans and mechanisms for sharing input. • If you provide contact information with your contribution, we may contact you for follow-up questions or community discussions related to the theme of your contribution. Thank you for engaging with us on this exciting project! If you have any questions, please write to us at PRMD@nara.gov.
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