Creating Transparency Through Records Management
June 7, 2012
Few agencies have spent enough energy and resources on managing records — the life cycle of agency information that is so critical to mission success and to meet open government requirements.
Successful mission delivery begins with making useful information easy to manage, obtain, respond to, and use to improve decision making.
INFORMATION TRANSPARENCY THROUGH RECORDS MANAGEMENT
Governments today are faced with massive amounts of data that they must process in order to meet mission requirements and deliver relevant, consistent, and current information to other government entities and the constituents they serve.
Open government directives require agencies to:
- Utilize technology to put information about their agency decisions and operations online and in public forums available to the general public
- Engage the public to enhance decisions through knowledge that is widely dispersed in society and increase public participation in government
- Use innovative tools, methods, and systems to cooperate across all levels of government and engage the public in the work of their government
According to President Obama's January 21, 2009, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Memorandum, all federal agencies are to administer FOIA requests with a clear presumption in favor of disclosure and resolve doubts in favor of openness. As agencies implement open government plans in response to transparency mandates, they must not only post data that is relevant and useful to the public but also administer FOIA initiatives with the presumption of openness, increase proactive disclosures, and improve the use of technology. Attorney General Eric Holder, reiterating the relationship between open government and FOIA, said, "FOIA reflects our nation's fundamental commitment to open government."
Many agencies focused on the social media aspects of open government and developed challenges and Web 2.0 citizen interfaces as methods for government employees to share data and even crowdsource information. However, few have spent the same energy and resources on managing agency records — the life cycle of agency information that is so critical to mission success and to meet open government requirements. What steps should agencies take to improve information transparency through records management?
Successful mission delivery begins with making useful information easy to manage, obtain, respond to, and use to improve decision making. The first step in information transparency is a review of agency records management IT capabilities, policies, and procedures and how they support the agency mission. This step was reinforced by the Presidential Memorandum issued in November 2011 that called for all agency heads to describe their agency's current plans for improving records management programs; outline current obstacles to sound, cost-effective records management policies; and identify potential reforms and improvements. Agencies created their records management improvement plans and submitted their plans to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on March 27, 2012.
As a next step, agencies should keep their senior management, required by the November 2011 Presidential Memorandum to lead the records management improvement plans, involved in creating a culture of transparency and more open and accountable government. This Memorandum sets the stage for a future vision in which all agency leaders — including the CIO, records officers and managers, and the Chief FOIA Officer — believe that sharing information is critical to the mission. Agencies that are moving to improve information transparency are fostering a culture that has the capability to generate, store, access, retrieve, manage, preserve, and willingly share knowledge and knowledge resources, both formally and informally.
Technology is the next step and plays a strong role in enabling efficiency through streamlined processes, ensuring accuracy, and expediting response. Often, the first use of technology in improving information availability is the digital on-ramp — document imaging with intelligent scanning to transition paper to electronic records. Digitizing records minimizes storage and retrieval expenses and the logistics of dealing with paper files. Not every record should be scanned; agencies need to assess the scanning costs versus the relevance of the document and how often the record will be used. Once records are digitized, agencies are deploying document management solutions to provide fast and reliable access to the documents requested. Access and retrieval software provides expeditious fulfillment of FOIA and legal discovery requests, as well as everyday requests for information stored in records management applications.
Next, agencies are investing in advanced records management for their digital records centers to provide a high-capacity, high-availability repository for storing electronic copies of critical business documents. Advanced records management software manages records throughout their life cycle — from inception through active, onsite management, archival storage management, and eventually destruction — wherever the records reside. Because government records reside in multiple formats — email, video, paper, tape, and digital files — advanced records management solutions should be media agnostic and be able to manage and retrieve records regardless of format.
Finally, eDiscovery solutions provide the means to organize and manage digital information for rapid retrieval. While there are many types of electronic documents — email messages, digital transaction records, Web pages, spreadsheets, databases, etc. — email is uniquely challenging when it comes to eDiscovery due to the volume of email that needs to be managed and the fact that it is often stored across hundreds of computers and tapes in many different government locations and offices. Agencies are beginning to realize the benefits of centralized email archives and are rapidly adopting them. When correctly implemented, these archives provide direct access to all email messages sent and received within the agency's stated retention period. One of the most important components of an eDiscovery solution is the ability to search and retrieve email to collect messages for legal production and defense. When a lawsuit occurs, a strong email archive can enable a legal team to find relevant email messages in just minutes or hours, depending on the complexity of the discovery request. Another important aspect of email archiving solutions is the ability to implement legal holds by user or group so that emails related to lawsuits are not destroyed. By using eDiscovery platforms for review and analysis, agencies can not only efficiently process agency records but also provide litigation support by establishing a defensible process of capturing, coding, and organizing information.
THE IMPACT OF TRANSPARENT INFORMATION
By identifying their current records management capabilities, obstacles, and plans; by involving senior agency officials in leading by example; and by leveraging technology that captures information in its entire life cycle, agencies are reducing the volume of paperwork, increasing efficiency and productivity in processing records, and sharing critical information. This easy and timely access to information is crucial to meet mission requirements, increase employee productivity, comply with open government directives, and, ultimately, better serve citizens.
Do you have questions about federal government records management? Read additional Knowledge Center stories on this subject, or contact Iron Mountain’s consulting services team. You’ll be connected with a knowledgeable product and services specialist who can address your information management challenges.
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