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Government Data Management for the Digital Age

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As the government modernizes with more digital processes, filing cabinets full of paper records are becoming a relic of the past. Yet paper records still exist, and agencies must ensure that just because the majority of work happens in digital format, those critical paper-based documents and processes are not forgotten while we develop processes for retaining data from new, digital communication modes.

Paper is Still Everpresent

The recent disclosure that classified paper records were found at the private residence of former President Trump and the reports that the president routinely ripped up documents that should have been part of the presidential archive efforts showed how critical document management is to government transparency and accountability. Senate hearings are looking into how to ensure that what paper records remain will continue to be subject to decades-old records management policies. 

Congress is also looking to provide more funding for dealing with legacy paper records. A new bill would give $60 million to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)  to address backlogs of requests from veterans for the military records that will allow them to access benefits such as medical treatment and emergency housing. 

A Paperless Future

On December 31, 2022 NARA will stop accepting newly created paper records, making it critical that all agencies reporting into NARA digitize their records. Over the next several months agencies will have to “transition record-keeping to a fully electronic environment that complies with all records management laws and regulations.” Of course the introduction of all-digital record keeping brings with it a new set of challenges. As new technologies are introduced for creating and maintaining records, policies will need to be rethought. 

New Apps, New Rules?

The use of WhatsApp, an encrypted messaging platform used among public officials has come under examination in terms of compliance with records management policies. Messages sent through WhatsApp (and similar services) are not automatically preserved as public records like emails or other electronic network-based communications. Without manually sending a copy, or providing screenshots, there is no record of the exchange for the public record. D.C. Mayor, Muriel Bowser, and her administration have recently faced questions about their use of WhatsApp and they are not alone. In response to state police officials using a similar app to communicate, the Michigan Senate approved a bill to ban the use of such apps on government-issued phones. Similarly, Maryland introduced the Transparency in Public Records Act, designed to set policies for how long different types of official records must be kept in response to the Governor’s use of chatroom-based apps. 

Meeting the Digital Challenge with More Tech

Technology is critical in not just digitizing records, but managing them moving forward. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) can help quickly sift through digital records, providing quicker access to needed information. AI and ML can also aid in applying policies regarding retention of digital records. 

Wise County, a rural area in southwest Virginia is using blockchain to manage their land records. Land records themselves have moved from paper-based to digital filing. Now, the county is applying blockchain to those records to create a chain of custody that goes back at least 40 years and allows for future changes to be added. 

GovWhitePapers and GovEvents have a host of resources to help navigate the evolving document management best practices. 

  • Training the Next Generation of Case Managers (white paper) – The Clerk’s Office of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit developed a new training program for case management systems that resulted in quantifiable improvements in the accuracy of court records, in the performance capability of its workforce, and in the quality of service to the court’s judges and litigants. This white paper presents the results of the initial program and includes updated data and program changes. 
  • Building a Data-Driven Government with AI (white paper) – Government agencies that can efficiently and securely manage and leverage data have a distinct advantage. AI, Machine Learning, and HPC are applicable “any-time” data tools that can be applied to design, analytics, modeling, simulation, and many more use-cases, leading to better decisions and improved processes.
  • Implementing AI Across the Federal Government (white paper) – This white paper features highlights and key discussion points that emerged during a recent roundtable (held by ATARC in partnership with IBM) on how to help federal agencies continue to move from theory to practice and become more operational in the application of AI.
  • ASAP National Training Conference (July 19-21, 2022; Arlington, VA) – This event combines “nuts & bolts” training topics with the thought-provoking and practical issues associated with FOIA and Privacy Act processing and requesting as well as records management.
  • 10th Annual 930GOV Where IT Comes Together (August 18, 2022; Washington, DC) – 930gov is a multi-track, conference where government technical communities connect, exchange, and gather ideas from thought-leaders from each community. Topics for the 2022 conference include records management, Federal Data Strategy, cloud/modernization, enterprise architecture, and more. 

You can search for additional records management resources here:

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