Latest Records Management Self Assessments Show Minimal Change

The latest summary of agencies' records management self-assessments by National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) shows that despite some improvement in agencies' practices and policies since the self-assessments were first instituted in 2010, most federal agencies are still at moderate-to-high risk of losing records.

On a positive note, the percentage of agencies that scored well enough on the assessments to be classified as having a "low risk" of losing records has climbed — from only 5% in 2010 to 20% in 2012. There was also a 10% drop of those in the "high risk" category. As NARA's report shows, though, the level of risk associated with the federal government's records management continues to be unacceptable: in 2012, 36% of agencies were at high risk and 44% were at "medium risk" (down from 49% in 2010).

Two recent developments are cause for hope. The most recent is NARA’s proposed Capstone approach — a simplified approach that allows agencies to designate certain email accounts as permanent records by job position or role (the manner in which other communications records are treated), with all other email accounts are designated as temporary for a set time. This is a critically important step away from the guidance NARA established in the mid-1990s. We are hopeful also that the implementation of the August 2012 Records Management Directive will spur more improvements. As we noted in our response to the Directive's release, a requirement that agencies designate a senior official to oversee records management and an emphasis on managing records in the cloud are steps the open government community can like in the Directive.

Perhaps the Capstone approach will end the apparent stagnation in agencies programs. If not, the 2012 report renews our concern that the deadlines included in the Directive continue to be too far out to make sure agencies agencies put enough emphasis and attention on making improvements.

The 2012 self-assessments ask agencies to answer a series of questions that cover four major areas of their records management programs: activities, oversight and compliance; records disposition; and electronic records. According to the report, the findings have remained "consistent over the last two years," particularly with respect to activities, records disposition, and electronic records


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