NARA Survey Shows Continued Govt-wide Records Mis-Management

The May 1 release of an annual report by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), based on surveys agencies filled out about their record keeping practices, shows how much more work needs to be done before we can say with any certainty that the government is not at risk of losing potentially important records.

The 2011 Records Management Self-Assessment Report finds, similar to results reported last year, most agencies are at risk of losing or destroying records. If federal employees cannot identify and find records, they cannot be fully responsive to public requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), to discovery in litigation, or to Congressional requests for information. 

For the 2011 report, NARA asked each agency to answer a series of questions that cover four major areas of records management: 1) activities, including records management roles and responsibilities, directives, and training; 2) oversight and compliance; 3) records disposition; and 4) electronic records. Agencies could earn a maximum of 100 points on the survey. Consistent with previous records management reports, NARA determined agencies scoring 90 are said to have a relatively low level of risk of losing or destroying records associated with their records management programs. Agencies with scores between 60 and 89 are considered to have programs at moderate risk, and those with scores below 60 are deemed to be at high risk.

As seen in the below chart, only the State Department's records program is, on average, considered at low risk. Notably, in 2011 an even higher number of agency records programs have an average score associated by NARA with high risk than was the case in 2010.

    

In a troubling turn of events, a greater percentage of records management programs failed to turn in surveys in 2011 than in 2010. In 2010, 93 percent (251) of the 270 programs who received the self-assessment responded, and 7 percent (19) failed to submit a response. For the 2011 report, NARA sent surveys to 276 programs, 247 (89 percent) of those returned the assessment. No components of cabinet agencies or the Executive Office of the President show up on the list of non-respondents for 2010 and 2011; however, ten independent agencies have failed to respond for two years now. Interestingly, a component of the Department of Labor (Office of Jobs Corps) that gained one of the highest scores across the government on the 2010 assessment, failed to return the 2011 survey.

As we have noted before, we are pleased that the Administration decided earlier this year to begin to tackle the terrible state of records management across the federal government. One of the commitments in the National Action Plan developed as part of the Open Government Partnership is to "Reform Records Management Policies and Practices Across the Executive Branch." To that end, the President issued a Memorandum on Managing Government Records, that requires each agency head to: report on their current plans for improving records management programs; outline current obstacles to sound, cost-effective records management policies; and catalog potential reforms and improvements. The agency reports will inform, and be followed by, a Records Management Directive, to be issued by the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the National Archivist.

OpenTheGovernment.org and several of our coalition partners are monitoring the development of the Directive carefully and have met with government officials to discuss the directions it will take. As Patrice McDermott said on the release on the President's Memorandum, "this document only begins an effort to reform records management policies and practices…[we] will be following its implementation closely to make sure the resources of funds, attention, and personnel are put in place to ensure its success."

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