Budget Cuts Challenge Federal Records Management Reform

    Jan 13, 2015

    Efforts to implement an ambitious, multi-year endeavor to reform and modernize the federal government’s records management policies and practices will continue to be challenged by continued federal budget cuts, according to an assessment by ARMA International’s government affairs staff. 

    In August 2012, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued the Directive on Managing Government Records, which outlines two high-level goals for executive branch agencies:

    1. Require electronic recordkeeping to ensure transparency, efficiency, and accountability.
    2. Demonstrate compliance with federal records management statutes and regulations. 

    “Government agencies must devote more resources to implementing records and information management best practices at a time when budgets are being squeezed,” noted Liz Icenogle, ARMA’s director of government affairs. “For example, NARA’s fiscal year 2015 budget was cut by another $6 million after several years of significant reductions, and additional cuts are expected going forward.” 

    The Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Bill for fiscal year 2015, passed by Congress and signed by the president on December 16, provides $362 million for the agency tasked with managing the government's archives and records, operating the presidential libraries, administering the Information Security Oversight Office, publishing the Federal Register, mediating Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) disputes, and coordinating controlled unclassified information.  This compares to the $411 million the agency received fiscal year 2008.

    The budget landscape is likely to get worse as the automatic spending reductions triggered by the Budget Control Act of 2011 will go back into effect for fiscal year 2016. The December 2013 budget deal between House Republicans and Senate Democrats suspended those cuts for fiscal years 2014 and 2015. Unless Congress and the president can agree on a plan to lower the budget deficit, additional across-the-board spending cuts will go into effect on October 1, 2015.

    NARA’s strategic plan for 2014-2018 acknowledges the significant challenges that federal agencies face in devoting resources to performing records and information management at a time when budgets are being squeezed. “The Federal Government budget realities have broad and long-ranging implications for NARA’s priorities,” the plan states.

    Those implications will be felt as federal agencies seek to assign more resources to perform regular self-assessments of records management compliance, train their workforce in federal records management policy, and update their own records management systems and practices.    According to NARA’s most recent budget justification to Congress, federal agencies must show significant progress this fiscal year in achieving a low risk category in Records Management Self Assessments, in managing e-mail electronically by the end of 2016, and in managing all permanent records electronically by the end of 2019.

    “Records management and information governance professionals in the federal government have done a tremendous job in trying to comply with federal records laws, regulations, and directives, but many are working with both hands tied behind their back,” Icenogle said. “They need significantly more resources to obtain the training and support needed to address the challenges of the digital age.”

    The Washington Policy Brief is an online advisory that contains brief summaries of recent legislative and regulatory issues that may affect the records and information management profession. Further information about the issue is accessed by clicking on the link provided at the end of each summary.


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