Records Management: The Backbone of Open Government
June 6, 2012
By enabling participatory, transparent, and collaborative government, the Obama administration indicates that records management is the backbone of open government.
Effective, secure management of information, with easy and timely retrieval that minimizes any burden on the public, is crucial for government agencies to meet their mission requirements and efficiently serve citizens.
MANAGING AND KEEPING GOVERNMENT INFORMATION
Government is at a tipping point, realizing that information is a strategic asset, and it needs to protect, leverage, and analyze both structured and unstructured information to better serve and meet mission requirements. Agencies often approach open government, continuity of operations (COOP), the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and records management from different perspectives and with different reporting structures.
Traditionally, government entities are siloed, and it has been difficult for agencies to:
- Share knowledge
- Work across organizational boundaries so that all government employees can be aligned around the agency mission
- Collaborate to share information and transfer knowledge from employees who directly serve citizens to those who create strategic direction
However, agencies are beginning to recognize the value of developing cross-agency strategic plans that depend on government employees having the right information, as well as policy guidelines that empower employees to take action. In addition, agencies are beginning to deploy a consistent set of technologies across all of these business processes. As with all worthwhile endeavors, improvement starts with dedicated and visionary leaders who support creating a culture of transparency and more open and accountable government. As a means of holding heads of agencies and senior leaders in the federal government accountable for managing the records and information they and their organizations are creating, the White House released a Presidential Memorandum in November 2011 regarding managing government records. Federal departments and agencies are required to engage senior-level executives in identifying current plans for improving or maintaining their records management program, identifying any obstacles such as regulations that negatively impact sound records management policies, and recognizing policies or programs that would assist the agency's efforts to improve records management.
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. Success requires a holistic approach involving all stakeholders — IT staff, legal, FOIA, and COOP — at every level of the organization. Government employees working at agencies known for being proactive in information transparency attribute their success to very strong managers who train employees on the importance of records management and encourage them to expand their thinking to achieve the next level of openness and responsiveness.
EVERYONE IS A RECORD KEEPER
By enabling participatory, transparent, and collaborative government, the Obama administration indicates that records management is the backbone of open government. All functional managers need to understand and be trained on the records management process as a foundation for information management. Records management should be work that is done by all government employees as part of their job function versus an additional process after the fact. In addition to leadership by example, the proper management of records should be included in every government employee appraisal process, including agency leadership; the consequences of not effectively managing information include inefficiencies in finding and using information. If records aren't properly tagged and filed by employees, information may take many hours to find, or the information may never be found, preventing access to critical operational information required for decision making and deployment of mission. Lost records may deprive citizens of essential government services and benefits. Lost records may also expose agencies to legal liabilities and/or tie up staff to the point where other government business is jeopardized and may stop essential work as employees struggle to produce records under court order.
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 plays a strong role in enabling efficiency through streamlined processes, ensuring accuracy, and expediting response. Technology can be leveraged to capture information in its entire life cycle, reduce the volume of paperwork, increase efficiency and productivity in processing information, and reduce processing time in finding records and in fulfilling FOIA requests.
Agencies are under directives to use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and done by their government. Effective, secure management of information, with easy and timely retrieval that minimizes any burden on the public, is crucial for government agencies to meet their mission requirements and efficiently serve citizens.
As processes are improved, agencies should measure positive feedback from requesters and internal users and the reduced time to find records or process requests — providing greater employee efficiency and productivity and, ultimately, better citizen service. With every government employee becoming a record keeper, critical information is available to document agency actions, maintain accountability, increase citizen access to government records, and fulfill the promise of open government.
To facilitate the flow of information while maximizing the usefulness of information between government entities and the public, government should:
- Take a holistic approach to managing information and deploying information management technologies
- Continue to make proactive disclosures of information and educate the public and government employees on the availability of information
Measure outcomes beyond the number of records located, FOIA requests successfully processed, backlogs eliminated, or data sets posted
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.
Achieving Sustainability: It Takes a Partnership
The Challenge of Improving Records Management: Protecting Vital Records