In an effort to bolster IT efficiency and improve public access to government records, U.S. President Barack Obama recently called on federal agencies to begin transitioning to digital records management wherever possible. While this may pave the way to a more efficient government, agencies will need to be mindful of what records they digitize to ensure they do not breach data protection regulations.
In a memo issued on Monday, the White House expressed a need for an “executive branch-wide effort to reform records management policies and practices.” As a result, federal agencies have been given four months to develop plans to move their records to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which will help agencies operate more efficiently and minimize costs.
“When records are well managed, agencies can use them to assess the impact of programs, to reduce redundant efforts, to save money and to share knowledge within and across their organizations,” the memo stated. “In these ways, proper records management is the backbone of open government.”
According to the White House, technological advances during the past few decades have reshaped the way government agencies operate. However, in the last 10 years, NARA has collected an annual average of 475 million pages. This has put significant strain on the administration, which has seen the volumes of records increase each year.
“The current federal records management system is based on an outdated approach involving paper and filing cabinets. Today’s action will move the process into the digital age so the American public can have access to clear and accurate information about the decisions and actions of the federal government,” Obama said.
The Obama administration has not been shy about pushing technology into the forefront of government operations. Late last year, then-federal CIO Vivek Kundra introduced a sweeping IT reform plan that mandated government agencies consider deploying cloud-based IT solutions before on-premise options. Doing so, Kundra argued, would improve IT efficiency among government agencies and help them deal with increasing technological demands despite stricter budgets.
As part of Kundra’s 25-point reform plan, agencies were also instructed to consolidate data centers wherever possible, with the expressed goal of closing 800 of the government’s nearly 2,000 data centers by 2015.
However, with each new IT effort comes a new set of data security challenges. The cloud has long been criticized for perceived data protection shortcomings, as some organizations fear that using the cloud may open avenues through which intruders or unauthorized users can access critical, sensitive information.
Similarly, transitioning to a largely digital records management system presents several data security and compliance challenges as well. In its memo, the White House stressed that agencies must develop records management plans that meet various laws and regulations pertaining to record-keeping and storage.
Still, this is easier said than done. Agencies will have to be cautious in determining what records can be digitized and what cannot. In the memo, Obama noted that records management reform should give particular emphasis to email and social media records, adding that agencies must identify areas where special provisions or omissions must be made.
Whether the government can pull off such an effort remains to be seen. Earlier this year, NARA announced plans to end a previous electronic records archive due largely to project mismanagement and the inability to control costs. But there are clear advantages to adopting a digital approach to records management, as expressed by the Obama administration and NARA. If the U.S. government can manage to implement such a program without overspending or losing sight of data protection and compliance considerations, it may prove beneficial to both agencies and taxpayers.
Data Security News from SimplySecurity.com by Trend Micro