Program To Improve Federal Records Management Practices Should Be Funded by Direct Appropriations
LCD-80-68: Published: Jun 23, 1980. Publicly Released: Jun 23, 1980.
- Full Report:
Several problems were pointed out by a review of the records management activities of the National Archives and Records Service's (NARS) technical assistance program and its activities for improving Federal records management. NARS provides technical assistance to help Federal agencies improve their records management practices. This assistance is funded through reimbursements from agencies, rather than from appropriated funds. Because of the reimbursable nature of the program and the limited demand for technical assistance, NARS must aggressively market its services to agencies to get projects. In some cases, employees paid with appropriated funds were used to generate projects. NARS relies on agencies which can pay for its services, ignoring its own objective of helping agencies become self-sufficient in records management practices. NARS does not always follow its policy of requiring an agency's staff to participate in technical assistance studies in order to learn study techniques. It does not always followup and report the results of its technical assistance studies to the Office of Management and Budget and to Congress. The NARS services are authorized by the Economy Act, but its billing methods do not comply with the law as that law provides that funds earned during one fiscal year cannot be collected and deposited to the credit of appropriations which are current during subsequent fiscal years. NARS has not extablished realistic goals to determine which records management areas need priority attention. Its staff is spread too thin, working on too many projects, and making little overall progress. In spite of the fact that conducting agency inspections is one of its most effective tools, NARS has not increased the time devoted to this activity. Many of the NARS scheduled training courses have had to be canceled due to the lack of participation by Federal agencies and the inadequate preparations for courses.
Providing direct appropriations for NARS technical assistance program would rectify many problems. Direct appropriations would allow NARS the flexibility to better direct its technical assistance program and to develop a balanced approach to its records management program. Furthermore, GAO believes that because agencies pay for NARS studies and because of NARS need to obtain future work to finance its reimbursable staff positions, NARS may be reluctant to report the results of its studies to OMB and Congress. No policies were found for NARS use of consultants. The reports resulting from several contracts were not used by NARS. NARS should make greater efforts to encourage other agencies to conduct records management research studies.
Recommendation for Executive Action
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Recommendation: The Administrator of General Services should direct the Archivist of the United States to request direct appropriations for the reimbursable technical assistance positions; report the results of technical assistance studies to OMB and Congress, including both needed improvements and agency actions; direct that the policy on agency participation in studies be followed; and revise billing and accounting practices for reimbursable technical assistance work so that payments are deposited in the proper appropriation accounts in compliance with 31 U.S.C. 701(c). When appropriated funds are received for presently reimbursable staff, the Administrator of General Services should direct the Archivist of the United States to develop policies, plans, and priorities for using NARS staff for technical assistance projects or other program activities. To improve records management activities, the Administrator of General Services should direct the Archivist of the United States to develop plans and establish priorities for using NARS staff resources to better address its records management responsibilities; accelerate development of standards, guidelines, and handbooks; develop policies and procedures, before awarding any future consulting contracts, to ensure that the contracts provide services that contribute to NARS records management programs; encourage agencies to provide more resources for records management studies and, if necessary, assert the Federal Records Act authority to do so; monitor training course attendance to determine agency participation and ensure that preparations are made to have instructors and materials available for scheduled courses; and send copies of inspection reports to OMB and appropriate congressional committees.