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.

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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.

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