A Google search for “government records” returns images of endless stacks of folders and files. In response, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) hopes to hit the refresh button. Aiming to permanently shake this image, NARA issued a new policy directive intended specifically to help government agencies transition from paper to electronic records management.

Moving away from paper records

Government records

This policy directive can be separated into two symbiotic mandates. First, government agencies will be required to store all permanent electronic records (including email and social media) in an electronic format by 2020. This is largely because current record-keeping strategies are obsolete.  Previous policies were drafted in an era of paper records, meaning many agencies still create paper copies of electronic communications, a time and resource-consuming policy. Instead, by requiring that electronic records be stored electronically, NARA ensures that records will be stored in their native format. Tools that automatically archive email and social media will further reduce the time and resource requirements of record-keeping.

Giving structure to the management of records

Secondly, NARA’s directive mandates agencies to appoint a senior official to manage the agency’s records management and training policies. Each agency must name its Senior Agency Official (SAO) by November 15, 2012, and each SAO will be tasked with ensuring “the agency’s compliance with records management statutes and regulations.” Furthermore, agencies must establish records management training by December 31, 2014, to “inform all employees of their records management responsibilities” and to train the appropriate staff. Together, the designation of the SAO and the implementation of employee training provide a standardized framework for managing agency records.

So, while government agencies are currently stuck in limbo between paper and electronic records, NARA has provided an explicit roadmap for successfully transitioning. NARA does not want outdated records management policies to waste time and resources, especially as digital records become increasingly common. Consequently, the Google search results featuring stacks of folders might soon need a refresh itself.