Information Management:

Challenges in Managing and Preserving Electronic Records

GAO-02-586: Published: Jun 17, 2002. Publicly Released: Jun 17, 2002.

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Agencies are increasingly moving to an electronic environment rather than paper records. Because electronic records provide comprehensive documentation of essential government functions and provide information necessary to protect government and citizen interests, their proper management is essential. Further, the preservation of significant documents and other records is crucial for the historical record. Responsibility for the government's electronic records lies with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). NARA completed an assessment of the current federal record keeping environment in 2001 which concluded that although agencies are creating and maintaining records appropriately, most remain unscheduled, and records of historical value are not being identified and provided to NARA for archival preservation. Although NARA plans to improve its guidance and to address technology issues, its plans do not address the low priority generally given to records management programs, nor the issue of systematic inspections. Recognizing the limitations of its technical strategies to support preservation, management, and sustained access to electronic records, NARA is planning to design, acquire, and manage an advanced electronic records (ERA) system. However, NARA is behind schedule for the ERA system, largely because of flaws in how the schedule was developed. Further, to acquire a major system like ERA, NARA needs to improve its information technology management capabilities.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To address the low priority given to records management programs across government, the Archivist of the United States should develop a documented strategy for raising agency senior management awareness of and commitment to records management principles, functions, and programs. Further, the Archivist should develop a documented strategy for conducting systematic inspections of agency records management programs to (1) periodically assess agency progress in improving records management programs and (2) evaluate the efficacy of NARA's governmentwide guidance.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration: National Archives and Records Administration: Office of the Acting Archivist

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NARA has implemented our recommendation by 1) briefing agency leaders on the importance of records and information management and providing guidance and support on electronic records to senior agency officials; 2) assessing agency records management programs by (a) conducting cross-government studies to identify and analyze records management best practices; (b) developing governmentwide recommendations and guidance on these practices, and (c) developing a plan to undertake agency inspections based on a risk-based model, government studies, or reports from the media; and 3) conducting a survey of agency federal records managers that determined that officers were generally satisfied with the utility of NARA guidance products.

    Recommendation: To mitigate the risks associated with the acquisition of an advanced electronic archival system the Archivist should reassess the ERA project schedule. A revised schedule should be developed, based on estimates of the amount of work and resources required to complete each task, that allows sufficient time for NARA to complete essential planning tasks.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration: National Archives and Records Administration: Office of the Acting Archivist

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NARA revised the ERA schedule. The schedule was based on a comprehensive work breakdown structure that estimated the amount of work and resources required to complete each task.

    Recommendation: To mitigate the risks associated with the acquisition of an advanced electronic archival system, the Archivist should reassess the ERA project schedule. A revised schedule should be developed, based on estimates of the amount of work and resources required to complete each task, that allows sufficient time for NARA to strengthen its information technology (IT) management capabilities by (1) implementing an IT investment management process, (2) developing an enterprise architecture, and (3) improving information security.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration: National Archives and Records Administration: Office of the Acting Archivist

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NARA has addressed our recommendation by revising the ERA program schedule to provide the time and resources necessary to strengthen the agency's IT management capabilities in the areas of IT investment management, the enterprise architecture, and information security.

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