Where Is It? Making Government Records More Accessible

Daunted by the prospect of optimizing your department or agency’s records-storage and information-management practices? Keep these pointers in mind as you build a plan.

What good is getting a grip on your agency's digital information when that data remains virtually inaccessible to the rest of the government or to the public? According to a survey from market research firm IDC, “a quarter of government responders were unable to find or access the digital information they needed to do their job more than half of the time.”

On top of that, federal agencies are grappling with stacks of legacy paper records that are often “organized” and stored without rhyme or reason. Many of these records are in sufficient enough demand to be converted to searchable digital formats.

Implementing and maintaining an accessible records management system, particularly in the face of constantly evolving federal standards and technology advances, takes time and money—just as federal staffs and budgets are shrinking. Budget cuts are slicing deep into agency records management initiatives, even threatening the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) long held plans to create a publicly accessible Electronic Records Archive (ERA). Why? Because NARA’s IT budget has been cut 17 percent for 2012.

The good news: With some thoughtful planning and by integrating current technology and tracking techniques, you can turn the vital information in legacy paper and digital documents into easily searchable records without straining your budget.

From a budget perspective, initially converting all paper to digital files makes little sense. But taking a hybrid approach—converting only the most requested documents—can help you identify and prioritize vital and important information.

As part of this plan you can store less frequently requested documents safely in a secure, environmentally regulated facility. However, these records must still be easily accessible if a FOIA request or legal discovery process requires that they “go active.” One of the best ways to sort through and classify such information is to assign each record a scanable barcode. You can affix barcodes to individual records or paper documents or to cartons of records. The barcode will follow a record from creation to disposition. Barcodes also ensure the chain-of-custody, which is important in legal discovery requests.

Your agency can store its own records, though building an in-house solution is expensive and time-consuming. One alternative taken by many agencies is to collaborate with a vendor who can provide the necessary technology, facilities and methodologies to organize, tag and store records with an emphasis on accessibility.

When planning for accessible government records management, consider these additional best practices:

  • Combine your agency’s paper files, digital information and hybrid files (regardless of their format, media type or location) to create a single, secure online system.
  • Consider a plan that lets you control document access with permission levels based on roles, rank or other parameters tailored to your office’s needs. This could apply to either a closed, employees-only system or to a site that provides access to outside vendors or other entities. By doing so, you'll improve your overall efficiency and maybe even boost employee morale.
  • Create a setup that lets you store and search documents for both backup purposes and for ongoing access. 
  • Improve your mobile workforce’s backup procedures and access to information. (This includes all information on laptops, handhelds and other devices.) Make the same considerations for highly dispersed workforces operating at multiple sites.
  • Consider users with special needs or disabilities every step of the way.

By taking a step back and examining your current processes, you can identify opportunities to move information online and remain at pace with federal compliance standards—while also saving time and money.

Did You Know?

Three Key Benefits of a Single Online System

  • Partner Consolidation. You'll minimize the number of vendors you’re managing (and their expense) in your efforts to store, scan, search, retrieve and archive records. For instance, if you’ve been paying to store paper records, digitizing them will save you money in the long run.
  • Less Paperwork (ironically). Dealing with fewer vendors means simplifying the contract oversight process. And by consolidating contracts you’ll reduce administrative costs and potentially benefit from volume discounts.
  • Optimal compliance. An enhanced backup, storage and accessibility solution makes you more compliant with the Open Government Directive, FOIA and other accessibility mandates.

Have more Federal Records Management questions? Read additional Knowledge Center stories on the topic, or contact Iron Mountain’s consulting services team. You’ll be connected with a knowledgeable product and services specialist who can address your specific challenges.

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