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FCW : August 15, 2015
14 August 15, 2015 FCW.COM Records Management Not an enforcement agency One of the big misconceptions about government records management is that there is a central authority with the abil- ity to sanction individuals or departments that are not living up to their charge as custodians of government information. “There’s a lot of expectation that we are an enforcement agency when we really aren’t,” Wester said. “Our focus is really on how can we help agencies manage their records the best that they can so that they can meet their business needs, protect their rights and interests [of] the govern- ment and the citizens, and get to the national archives their permanently valuable records at some point in the future so that we can make them available [for] a future generation.” When records have been destroyed or removed, NARA can refer individual cases to the Jus- tice Department, but in general, it doesn’t have much leverage over particular agency programs. The results of its annual Records Management Self-Assessment give oversight bodies and lawmakers a look at how agencies are doing, and NARA also conducts inspections by going into agencies and examining how their records management pro- grams work. And increasingly, Wester is trying to bring agency inspectors general into the records conversation. “I think the IG community is interested in thinking about how important records are, particularly for the audit kinds of functions, and what’s the nexus between our responsibilities and what they’re trying to do in the IG communi- ty,” Wester said. He wants federal employees to know that records management “is an area where you can go to your IG and ask questions and have them look into things.” New law, new penalties Wester is also involved in the implementation of updates to the Federal Records Act. One key provision requires feds who use personal email for government business to move those messages into an official account within 20 days or face consequences, except in exceptional circumstances. “That’s a fundamentally different issue with penalties and things that had not been in place before,” Wester said, adding that the specificity of the new law will encourage conversations between records officers and senior officials that might not have happened otherwise. “Now that there are penalties for a particular piece of your not managing your records effectively, there’s a better way to have that conversation now,” Wester said. “‘If you do not do this, this is what could happen to you.’ That makes it much more concrete than it may have been in the past.” Right now, Wester said, he plans to leave it to each agency to define the exceptions to the 20-day rule. A looming deadline Under a presidential directive, agencies must manage all their email records in electronic format by the end of 2016. That means no more printing messages and filing them. NARA is starting to have conversations with designated senior agency officials — executives with enough clout to take records issues into the C-suite — about how well they’re doing to meet the 2016 deadline. “It would be surprising to me if every single person met the deadline and every single agency met the deadline by 2016,” Wester said. “What I can say is that all of the agencies are making progress toward meeting it.” NARA has recommended that agencies adopt a policy dubbed Capstone that involves designat- ing certain agency email accounts, whether by virtue of rank or func- tion, as likely to generate perma- nent records and then setting those accounts for automatic archiving. “We’ve taken a policy approach that we think matches up well with how technology has evolved and allows agencies more flexibility and greater ability to be able to capture that permanently valuable email, segregate it [and] get it to the archives when it needs to be gotten to us for permanent preservation,” Wester said. NARA is also preparing for the impending change in administration. Wester said officials are getting ready to “dust off plans” for what agencies need to do as the Obama administration winds down. He has worked at NARA since 1990 and has been through a few presidential transitions. “They’re mundane if they all work right,” Wester said, adding that the goal is “having the conversations early, get- ting our literature out and guidance products out early so that agencies understand what their obligations are with those kinds of folks. Making sure things move effectively and easily is something we’re interested in doing better.” n “WE’VE TAKEN A POLICY APPROACH THAT WE THINK MATCHES UP WELL WITH HOW TECHNOLOGY HAS EVOLVED.” 0815fcw_012-014.indd 14 7/29/15 3:38 PM
July 30, 2015
August 30, 2015