Federal Records Management:

A History of Neglect

PLRD-81-2: Published: Feb 24, 1981. Publicly Released: Feb 24, 1981.

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GAO reviewed the status of records management in the Federal Government and recent legislation which should promote needed improvements. GAO made this review because of the size of the annual cost of federal records and the large potential for dollar savings. Records management includes various managerial activities related to the creation, maintenance, use, and disposition of records.

The agency with government-wide records management responsibilities, the National Archives and Record Service (NARS), found that many agency programs needed significant improvements. Weaknesses in agency programs continue to exist years after NARS first reports them. Agencies have made many suggestions for saving money through better records management. Persistent records management shortcomings have been attributed to poor promotion of records management program improvements, lack of commitment by top management, emphasis on agency missions, and the low priority of records management. The ineffectiveness and poor image of NARS raise questions as to how successful its current proposed changes will be. Records management historically has been afforded limited resources and inadequate management attention. The Paperwork Reduction Act includes a requirement that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) send Congress copies of its reports on agencies' information management activities and an annual report listing violations of information laws and regulations. Congress will also receive agency responses to the reports. These provisions should improve agencies' accountability to Congress and focus attention on longstanding records management problems. OMB can oversee improvements in the records management program of NARS, direct agencies' attention to analyzing their records management systems, require and collect agency self-evaluation recommendations, and monitor agency weaknesses identified by NARS.