AOTUS David Ferriero noted on Friday that he is concerned about the status of records management (RM). He added, “I’m also concerned that more Americans aren’t troubled by this state of affairs. One reason why Americans might not be more concerned is that they aren’t really aware of what happens to government records and why they are important.” He went on to discuss how citizen archivists (yep, the term has stuck) work with documents released by NARA.
OK. So he’s focusing on the end of the life cycle of records. But whether they follow trad media or niche news sites, underlying RM issues are gonna seem remote to Joe and Jane Citizen.
Email messages surface in a lawsuit? Hey, this is America. Litigation Happens. Click to another story.
An official allegedly uses a personal rather than an official email account to send and receive messages? Swing into defense mode if he’s from your party, spin as OMG-end-of-the-world stuff if he’s not. Check out news comment boards, anywhere.
Tom Blanton pops up on a webcast, saying the government struggles to save its e-records but lookee here, his nifty personal computer auto-saves data so, there ya go! Wait. Scratch that. Only a few folks in Govland might have seen that one.
It is way beyond tough to lay out RM issues so that citizens can get into the weeds, push through the distractions, and follow the throughlines. Cuz NARA had bad luck in the way it first plunged into e-archiving, right with the Top of the Toppermost.
Let’s travel back in time.
“All of the Iran-Contra backup tapes uncovered during the initial investigation into the scandal were slated to be saved as evidence for other ongoing investigations. . . . NARA’s position at the time was that anything of record significance would have been printed out and filed into a formal recordkeeping system, hence anything that remained electronically would have been either a redundant ‘convenience copy’ or non-record material. . . . NARA was of the opinion that the erasure was clearly in line with both policy and law.” (David Wallace, Preserving the U.S. Government’s White House Email: Archival Challenges and Policy Implications, 1998.)
The National Archives “has no role in whether a particular document is a record.” Moreover, it is not the Archives’ job to “maintain documents in any particular physical form.” Claudine Weiher, Deputy Archivist of the United States, declaration, Armstrong et al. v. Executive Office of the President et al., 1 F.3d 1274 (D.C. Cir. 1993) Cited in “Opening The Government’s Electronic Mail: Public Access To National Security Council Records.”
Ten years later.
“Four high-level barriers to effective records management in agencies were identified in the report: records and information are not managed as agency business assets; records management is not seen as critical to agency mission; records management receives marginal support from the agency; and information technology and records management organizations are poorly integrated within agencies.” (NARA, Electronic Records Policy Working Group report, 2004)
Ok. Barriers. But they sound as if they might be overcome. After all, we got BRIDG!
But how about this, compiled around the same time as the ERPWG report?
Decisions on record destruction made by creators who have no time to be trained in what to preserve. Affected by FOI legislation and pressures of overwork. Balance tipped in “favour” of destruction of government memory. No more clerks serving on frontline of archive and government memory.
That’s a summary of an anonymous comment posted as part of Rick Barry’s study, “Overcoming Barriers to Major Users in Accessing Electronic Records.” (Source of comment not clear. Favour was spelled Brit-way but could be typo.)
Does NARA need a sitdown?
So. Should feds educate Joe and Jane Doe about any of this? If so, how much? Where? AOTUS’ blog seems geared primarily towards citizen archivists. (Among a Big Boss’s top obligations is ensuring sustainable levels of funding. Gotta be, ain’t no way ’round that. He’s gonna reach out to citizen archivists, and a good thing, too, given what’s at stake.)
The Records Express blog does well in reaching Govland (nice recent post about e-forums) but as talented and knowledgeable as some of the A-Team members are, the blog won’t be able to speak much to Joe and Jane Doe. No can do.
So, readers, is a sitdown possible? Who can engage citizens realistically on basics of RM and ERM? How? And where?
P.S. If only NARA could hire @DerangeDescribe to make it all visually clear.