David S. Ferriero 2014-12-02 11:19:23
In my two previous Archival Outlook columns, I discussed two of the four goals described in our 2014–2018 Strategic Plan for the National Archives and Records Administration. NARA’s first goal is “Make Access Happen,” and my column in the July/August issue reviewed how we’re working to make as much of our holdings as possible accessible. The second goal is “Connect with Customers”; in the September/October issue, I detailed our plans to engage our customers more so we can respond to their needs more efficiently and effectively. The third goal is “Maximize NARA’s Value to the Nation.” It means we recognize that “public access to government information creates measurable economic value, which adds to the enduring cultural and historical value of our records. . . . We will strive to implement new business practices to achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness in all we do and ensure institutional sustainability.” Achieving the Goal To achieve this third goal, we are at work on a number of fronts. With a mandate from the Office of Management and Budget, we directed government departments and agencies to get their recordkeeping in order in the next few years, and we established deadlines for them to do so. We’re providing them with assistance throughout the process. We must move more quickly toward digital recordkeeping, even as we reform Records management, and develop twentyfirst- century methods. This is especially important as we continue the transition to a digital government in which all records will be electronic. And we have already begun the long, labor-intensive task of digitizing the 12 billion pieces of paper created since our government began. With records preserved in an orderly fashion, it’s easier for individuals to access them for personal use, and for businesses to access them for research or commercial use and reuse, which creates economic activity. We’re also seeking to develop a means to measure the economic impact of the repeated use of the records in our custody— especially to the local economies where our forty-plus facilities are located. Our Commitment to the Value of Records But the heart of our efforts to “maximize NARA’s value to the nation” is our unshakable commitment to the cultural and historic values of the records, values likely to increase. It is a commitment not only to preserve them for generations to come but also to make them as accessible as possible to today’s generations. Actions we have taken, and will take, regarding the records will further enhance the ability of researchers to generate new scholarship and of families to trace their history. And we’ll provide them with the records they need in whatever format they want, as quickly as possible anytime and anywhere. We are constantly striving for increased efficiency and effectiveness in all our work, both internally and externally. This, of course, is especially important in an era of diminishing federal resources. One way we will do this is through better utilization of our brick-and-mortar facilities to bring in revenue, just as we already do when we allow outside groups to use our Washington, DC, building for events. We also want to learn more about the effectiveness of our programs, products, and services, an intangible that is difficult to measure. But we are working on ways to help us do so. For our customers to appreciate “NARA’s value to the nation,” they need to know more about us, and that’s what traveling exhibitions and loaned documents are all about—showing Americans what’s in their national file cabinet, much like what the Freedom Train that crossed the nation did in the late 1940s. Sharing Our Wealth To “maximize NARA’s value to the nation,” we will need to develop an entrepreneurial culture and make a business case for what we do, especially in these austere fiscal times. We have the advantage of already being a trusted source for Americans—with those founding documents that guarantee their rights, hold government officials accountable, and preserve the story of the nation. These records make up part of the wealth of our nation. It is wealth to be treasured—and to be shared.
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