An interview with Lisa Haralampus from NARA, The National Archives and Records Administration, around their mandate to drive change to modernize government
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Erik Oehler: Welcome to Data Dives, my name is Erik Oehler. Today we bring you an interview with a Lisa Haralampus, the director of records management policy and outreach for NARA, the National Archives and Records Administration, a US government agency tasked with the ambitious goal of phasing out the acquisition of paper records entirely by 2022 and transitioning to completely electronic record keeping. Lisa had some very interesting insights on how that task is going as well as some great advice for agencies that might be struggling with achieving this goal. So if you work in government, or even if you don’t, but you’re still in the habit of acquiring and keeping lot of paper records, I think you’ll find the conversation worth listening to. My colleague Joe Yankle caught up with her at the 930gov conference in Washington DC this month. Here’s Joe:
Joe Yankle: Please briefly describe NARA as an organization
Lisa Haralampus: We are a federal agency, well known for those in the genealogy community or the history community. When people think of us, they might think of Nicholas Cage and the movie National Treasure because most people think of the national archives as housing the Declaration, the Constitution and our nation's historical founding documents. But we do a lot more than just that. NARA has three missions. We do archiving, we do records management and record center storage and we run the presidential library system. We are about 2,700 employees. We have an operating budget of about 356 million dollars. So, we're actually considered a small to medium federal organization in part because we are spread out across the country. We run all the presidential libraries across the country, all the regional archives across the country and all of the federal record storage centers across the country. I like to say that I work at the National Archives and Records Administration, but I actually only work in the administration part of it. They don't actually give me a key to the stacks, and I cannot help people with their genealogy no matter how much I'd like to help them. Because my area of records administration, I've been working there for over 20 years, and we try to work with federal agencies that are creating records today because we know the better work NARA can do with agencies and records being created, the better archives we're going to have in the future. We do policy, we do training, we do inspections or assessments, and we do the record scheduling process. People might have heard of NARA as the the archives, but they may not be aware of our role in helping agencies determine how long they have to keep information. All federal records created or received have to have a federal retention period. They have to know how long that information has to be kept. The National Archives is the agency responsible for issuing that mandatory retention period. That is one of the key value add things that we do in the federal records management space that might be a little different than the private records management space. The process of getting all federal data identified, organized, scheduled and retained is the area that the National Archives is lead on. I'd also like to add that NARA is an independent agency. Some agencies may think that we are part of the cabinet. We're not, we do not have a overarching department level. The Archivist of the United States works directly for the administration. We are considered an independent agency. We don't fall under one of the other cabinet level offices.
Joe Yankle: Okay. So what are the origins of the NARA Mandate?
Lisa Haralampus: The origins or the NARA mandate. Well, like I said, we have been responsible for trying to guide federal creation since the founding. It's been part of the National Archives and Records Administration mission. The origins of the mandate ... I'm going to characterize it a little bit differently. From my perspective we've been trying to help agencies be more efficient, more effective and better identify their records and information. When you did that in the paper world, we had a lot of regulations, and systems and processes to help agencies do better records management. You can look at the fact that the National Archives offered nationwide federal paper records storage as an example of that mandate. I don't know if you're aware, but in the eighties that storage was actually free for agencies. At the time the volume was small enough and the mission was considered part of NARA's mission. Agencies could actually send records to the Federal Records Center and we would store them at no cost. We absorb the costs of record storage for the entire federal government. In the nineties, when that became unsustainable, that model changed, and then agencies paid for use of the federal records storage programs and we set up a fund to handle the payments. So, you could say the mandate goes all the way back to our original origin of how do we help agencies do records management better? But starting in the eighties and nineties, part of that change has been we've been watching how records creation has changed over time from multiple, multiple initiatives going back from the 80s, 90s, 2000s, pushing agencies to do better and be more efficient by using technology. The mandate came with the recognition that as agencies were implementing eGov, when they were implementing the change from using infrastructure to agency-owned infrastructure going back to implementing IT from desktop implementation to even email implementation in the nineties, we're watching how records creation was changing. And there was a recognition that people weren't paying attention to the mandate to know what have I got, how long do I need to keep it? Can I find what I have? Can I use it and reuse it? NARA had been pushing for records management inclusion in agency processes. But as not unexpected during that timeframe, we did it from where we were then. We would take a lot of paper-based processes and say, "And don't forget to do this with your electronic records management." NARA's mandate came out of the recognition that you just don't want to keep doing the paper world in the electronic world. You want to progress, you want to grow, you want to take advantage of IT. The mandate that we came up with says ... and the vision still holds true today ... agencies need to be more effective and efficient at managing their records, information and data. And they need to think about the information governance associated with that information. And from NARA's perspective, what is your retention? And do you know which information is so valuable that eventually it needs to come to NARA for historic preservation.
Joe Yankle: So, tell me a little bit about the OMB memo, M19-21.
Lisa Haralampus: In order to tell you that story, I have to tell you this story. Before I can talk about M19-21 I want to talk about M12-18. The story actually starts in 2011 with that recognition that we want to drive agencies to better, more cost effective and efficient electronic records management, really breaking with the past. We set the vision, and we set the targets and we had a ... For your listeners who might go back and read it, my office was responsible, I was responsible for tracking our progress on what I had. It was a list of 23 things that M12-18 said that we were going to get done. And we've done, I would say 22 out of the 23 things that we had targeted-
Joe Yankle: Not bad.
Lisa Haralampus: Yes. The last one that we hadn't completed yet was the 2019 target to manage permanent electronic records in electronic format. M19-21 is a logical progression from what we said seven years ago with M12-18. M12-18 set the vision and then it set targets for over the next seven years. M19-21 carries forward that same vision. In fact, it makes me very happy to see even some of that same language that was used in the front piece used in the front piece for the same directive. The goal hasn't changed, the support hasn't changed, the vision hasn't changed. And it's important, because I think records management is about good governance. Even as time has gone on, there are new players in different agencies, administrations have changed, nobody has come in and said, "No, go back to paper." Everybody's saying, "Keep going forward down this path of better records management." M19-21 is this administration's stamp of approval on the vision that we'd been going with, with some new targets that this administration is looking to achieve. The target of M19-21, the first target they did was they took the uncompleted target of the first memo that said by 2019 agencies must manage permanent electronic records in electronic format and they carried that forward. Then they have another target that says by 2020, NARA, have you put in place the systems, the tools, the policies and the practices that are going to let agencies be electronic. Not go electronic, not change, but if you were actually doing electronic records management now, have we removed any of the barriers or giving you the support you need to do electronic records management. That's NARA's target and I'm sorry, I have to stop this podcast right now. I need to go back to that work. I can't believe it's going to happen ... That goal says it's going to be in less than a year. The next target, which kind of shows you this story, this narrative in this progression is the 2022 goals. The administration said, "All right, we're issuing this in 2019. Agencies, you have three years to plan for and try to meet these next targets in this new memo, which say, one, we want you to stop sending paper records to NARA." I said before, NARA has three areas, records center storage and archival management. When the memo says stop sending to paper, they mean that in both of those missions. So, agencies have been told they have until 2022 to stop sending paper records to the Federal Records Center programs. Those programs are going to, December 31st, 2021, to the greatest extent possible, tell agencies, "Nope, no more." They're going to wrap their arms around what they've got and they're going to manage the records that are in those records centers. But they're not going to keep taking electronic records. That is the same goal that's been set for the other side of the house, the archiving side of the house. By December 31st, 2022 to the greatest extent possible they are going to tell agencies, "Stop sending us your analog records or your paper records. We want to receive your electronic versions." First of all, we should take a moment and pause because I'm sure listeners to this podcast are going to say, "Wait a minute, NARA is going to stop taking paper?" That is what I said. That is what the plans have said. That is the direction we're trying to move to, to the greatest extent possible. And you'll hear me say that over and over again, because it's a target. It's what we're trying to achieve. We recognize that not everybody is going to be in the same space, but we have been watching agencies transition to electronic records for so long, since 2012, since all this progression. We think the tipping point is here. This was a good time to say, "This is what NARA is going to stop doing." And therefore the intended consequence of that action, not the unintended, but the intended is just have agencies say, "Oh okay, we were transitioning to electronic anyway, let's send those paper records to the Records Center by 2022 and we'll just focus on our electronic records management. We are going to move the paper into those centers. They could stay there, they can live out the rest of their record's lives in the record storage centers, and we're going to go full electronic." If an agency can't go to full electronic records management by 2022 then the man, the new memo has other options for them. And it says, "In that case, we want you to go to commercial records center storage." So, not only does this directive say, "Please go to electronic, and if you've got paper, send it to a federal records center storage by 2022," it says, "After 2022 we would like you to use commercial storage, and not use agency storage either to the greatest extent possible." So, a lot of drivers in the mandate that I'd like to sort of frame as there are targets, we've made the bold statements. The administration, and NARA and OMB are doing our best to put all the tools, and policies and practices in place that we can to help agencies get there. We're going to see how far down the path we can move towards electronic records management by 2022. That's the memo's direction.
Joe Yankle: So, we're here at the 930gov Conference today. I've had the opportunity to talk to lots of different agencies. Many of them are in different stages of their digital journey. What advice would you give to an agency who was just starting out on this digital journey of records management? You have some agencies that already have electronic records, some that have the majority of their records still on paper.
Lisa Haralampus: The National Archives, my office, we issued for the 2019 goal a success criteria. You can find it, and we can hopefully put in the show notes a link to it. It's called The Success Criteria for Managing Permanent Electronic Records Electronically, or something to that effect. If I've misquoted the title of my own paper, I'm embarrassed, but that's what we tried to do. It's a white paper. It's not a mandatory piece of guidance. But it's an example of the sort of things we're trying to put out there to help agencies meet the goal. It has an operational view for what you have to do to be successful at managing electronic records. The first thing an agency has to do is ... hold on to your horses. This is going to be very radical and shocking. They have to determine the budget and the resources for electronic records management. That's not something that happens from the bottom up. That's a top down decision. There has to be a commitment at the top of the agency to say, "Yes, this is important enough. This is how much money I have, either in our current operating budget ... And what I'm going to go to Congress to request, and what I'm going to talk to the administration and to our OMB liaisons who handle our agency budget to say, 'This is how much it's going to cost.' Either I'm going to have to stop doing this function and get that cost savings or I need to find the additional money." And I also put down, you have to figure out what is the budget and who are the people who are going to be responsible? So you have to figure out which part of the organization is best set to handle that strategic. You've got to start first with your planning, your budget and your resources. Once you've done that, then the traditional records management that we all know and love so well has an opportunity to succeed with your basic, "What is my inventory?" Always starts with inventories, your file plans, your data inventories, your data lists, looking at your IT investments to try to figure out, well, where do we have mission work? How is it being handled so that you can identify what's permanent, what's temporary? How is the process working? Where are we doing records management in paper? Where are we transitioning? Get that information in plan. Once you can do that, the rest, why, then it gets easier and easier, doesn't it? Now we know the scope. We have resources to deal with the problem. We have the scope of the problem and then you start attacking each problem at a time. I loved how you said agencies were in different places. That's so true. And we've noticed the same thing. Every agency's mission is unique. They have something special about the way they're managing their records. Some agencies might be very good at actually social media records and social media management, because their job is in information dissemination. So, they've got a really good handle on that. But maybe they're not quite as good at the big data. Other agencies are science, and information and data different organizations. They have a handle on data management, but they're not really doing so good on document management. You have other agencies that are legal or audit focused. Boy, they have case files that are extremely well controlled but they've not really paid attention to text messaging. We feel everybody's probably succeeding in a different way, in a different space. The hard part for agencies is to figure out all of their information needs and then figure out what do I want to tackle and what's the right goal? Again, you might find that I had case management files, that they were in paper, but we started that transition to electronic five years ago. However, it's going to take us another ten years to finish that transition. So, an agency has to start making those decisions about how fast they can move, what's it going to take to move a little faster?
Joe Yankle: What advice would you give to some of the smaller government agencies at the state and local level?
Lisa Haralampus: You know, the smaller government agencies, I have a great deal of empathy for them, because they are small, their budgets are very narrow and they do not get the luxury or the joy of being able to dedicate one person to do one activity. They have to be jack of all trades. My advice for smaller federal agencies is to continue to work with the Small Agency Council ... That's one of the groups that we try to work with ... To figure out how we can leverage tools and practices. Because that's what they need. They're like, "What's the solution?" For state and local governments I would say they would have to still have to go through the same process we just described, of identifying their budget, their resources, getting their intellectual control over the problem. Then figuring out what they can tackle. For the small agencies and for smaller state local academic universities, they do have one advantage that larger agencies don't have. Which is, one, when you're smaller, and you have fewer people, and they're wearing multiple hats ... When your FOIA officer, and your privacy officer, and your law librarian and your records person is the same person, if they're able to keep that breadth of knowledge up to date they're able to come up with the good information governance solutions that sometimes larger organizations have more difficulty reaching. Because they're not as fast or nimble. We've noticed that with small agencies. My advice is use the tools that you have in place, you've already purchased, you've already leveraged, and try to keep the federal requirements in your contracting processes so that you're able to buy what you need to buy to put in place what you have to put in place. If you're a Microsoft 365 shop, how are you able to configure 365 to achieve the records management and things you need to do with the tools that you already have in place? If you're already using Microsoft's Office email, shared Drive, SharePoint solutions, what additional thing can you do to manage all of your records, and access and retrieval needs at once?
Joe Yankle: Let's talk about funding a records management project. At the federal level there's the Technology Modernization Fund. Have you had any agencies look to that vehicle to leverage the TMF for funding for a records management project?
Lisa Haralampus: I'm not aware of any myself, and I'm sorry I can't sit here with this, I'd have to go double check and look it up. Let me tell you about NARA's partnership with GSA and how we're trying to help make the tools more easier available. So that when you do have funding dollars, be they from the IT Technology Modernization Fund, or Working Capital Fund, or your operating budget, where do you spend those dollars? NARA has a project called the Federal Electronic Records Modernization Initiative. Shorthand, that's FERMI. It's our branding, our own internal branding that we use to describe all the work we're doing in a space that's a little different for us, a little new. We've challenged ourself to go beyond policy and practices and start working with how-tos, with finding tools and solutions. Those of us at NARA working on FERMI are working with GSA's category management team. We are working specifically with the office management category on Schedule 36. Schedule 36, I keep joking, we were chocolate and peanut butter who happened to bump into each other. We had this desire to try to help agencies figure out funding, and budget and procurement. We didn't know how to do it. We just knew what they needed. GSA had been running the paper records management schedule for years. And they were like, "You know, agencies are coming to us saying that they're not getting what they need. We're not quite sure what it is they're trying to buy." So, we work together with them to say, "We understand exactly the requirements that they were looking for. Here they are." And GSA said, "Well we understand the procurement rules, we can help make life a little easier for procurement." We established with the GSA category managers in Schedule 36 a new special item number, special item number 600, specifically for electronic records management. Because it had been buried under the previous category. That's why I was trying to say they were getting questions like, "Hey, I need this, but I'm not seeing it in your existing category management." Because it was so heavily paper focused you didn't see the electronic. We were like, "You've got to split those out. When people need paper records management services ... and they still do, even though that's getting smaller and smaller as you move to electronic ... then make your paper services under this item. And offer electronic records management under this item. And people will be able to meet the two of them."
Joe Yankle: Right.
Lisa Haralampus: We established that in 2017. By 2018 we've had over 40 vendors self-certify that they can meet our electronic records management requirements. And we're now starting to see agencies using their different funding mechanisms to apply and start getting contracts off that vehicle. In federal bureaucratic red tape speak this is an amazing amount of progress in a short time. We've really been lucky to leverage a lot of people who've gone before us and have a lot of experience to go from nothing, to a number, to vendors, to actual implementation in just two years.
Joe Yankle: Yeah, it's phenomenal. I love the chocolate and peanut butter analogy.
Lisa Haralampus: I know, we're just chocolate and peanut butter. What is it-
Joe Yankle: Match made in heaven.
Lisa Haralampus: Yeah, it's a match made in heaven. I guess I date myself when you think of those commercials. "Your peanut butter fell into my chocolate."
Joe Yankle: I remember those.
Lisa Haralampus: "Your chocolate fell into my peanut butter." Your records management fell into my category management. We did.
Joe Yankle: So, any last thoughts, words of advice as we wrap up this podcast episode number four? And again, thank you for joining, but any last thoughts around records? Any other additional advice that you could think of for agencies?
Lisa Haralampus: Well, first I'd like to do a little scene setting. Which is when you're working in records and information management, when you're doing data dives and data drives, you have to think about the past, the present and the future all at the same time. Because information management, I sometimes joke, it's a river, it's a flow. You can't solve today's problem because you still have yesterday's problem to deal with. You're also looking at what tomorrow's problem is going to be and do I have today's technology to solve that? I'd like to sort of give your listeners that perspective to say if you ever feel exhausted or tired, you can't figure out why I can't figure this all out at the same time, why one solution is not working, it's because you're trying to do three different things at once. The data digitization activity that the scanning of paper records, trying to make sure you've got information from the past in a format that can be used today, that's what I mean about you're looking at the problems of the past and you're just trying to say, can I find that data? Can I find that information? Can I transform it into such a way that I can use it today? Then you're really happy because you've done that only to turn around and realize there are more problems of today that are not related to the born paper, but the born digital. So, you have to wrap your hands around just basic web records 101. What did I tell the public? How am I managing my SharePoint sites? What am I doing with things that were born electronic? And then while you're managing that, you think, okay, I think I've got a strategy. You turn around and realize WhatsApp, or other ... Smarsh, or text messaging, something that's in the future that you hadn't thought about. It's also going to have a profound impact on records that are being created today. I'd like to share that that's that big perspective, and keep working at the past, present, and future problems all at the same time. And hopefully we'll just keep moving forward.
Joe Yankle: Great words of advice, and thank you again for joining me today. Really appreciate it. It's been an honor.
Lisa Haralampus: Thank you very much.
Joe Yankle: Thanks, Lisa.
Erik Oehler: Our thanks again to Lisa Haralampus. You can find NARA at https://www.archives.gov/ and links to the memos and success criteria Lisa mentioned in our show notes. This, and every episode of Data Dives comes to you from Alaris, A Kodak Alaris Business, delivering scanners, software, and service that make it easy for your business to go paperless. Learn more at Alarisworld.com. For Data Dives, I’m Erik Oehler. We’ll see you next time!