Agencies face hurdles meeting OMB’s deadline to go paperless

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Some agencies are having a more challenging time than others investing in the electronic records management (ERM) systems they need to go paperless by the Office of Management and Budget’s deadline of December 31, 2022.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, for instance, has 29 agencies to contend with and found that, even though one went paperless, the customers it deals with continue to submit paper records.

OMB issued a memo in July 2019 directing the National Archives and Records Administration to stop accepting paper records by the end of 2022, but agencies’ business processes could hinder the transition, even after scanning initial records, if the systems they invest in aren’t long-term solutions.

“We’re using this as an opportunity to not just get paper into a digital form,” said Catherine Cole, with the Directives, Forms and Records Management Branch within USDA, during an ACT-IAC event Thursday. “This is an opportunity to also look at our business processes that will allow us to sustain this moving forward.”

NARA aims to help agencies on that front through a number of different efforts, namely the Federal Electronic Records Modernization Initiative (FERMI), which makes it easier for agencies to acquire electronic records management services and solutions.

Under FERMI, NARA identified high-level business needs for managing electronic records before setting baseline Universal ERM Requirements for agencies and setting specifications for vendors.

NARA is also working with the General Services Administration to improve the ERM system procurement process and help agencies find vendors that meet their needs. Together they created an ERM solutions category, a consolidated GSA schedule where vendors self-certify they meet the Universal ERM Requirements. NARA and GSA also established a special item number (SIN) for physical records under the Multiple Award Schedule.

NARA recently released draft regulations for digitizing permanent records that agencies will eventually transfer over, but their progress toward meeting the December 2022 deadline for going paperless remains unclear.

Agencies perform a Records Management Self-Assessment (RMSA) annually, which contains data on where they see themselves with respect to meeting OMB’s deadline.

But things get murkier when it comes to how that data is being monitored and used to ensure agencies transition to ERM systems on time.

“I’m not aware of any kind of centralized tracking that we’re doing as far as where agencies are,” said Markus Most, electronic records policy analyst with NARA. “That responsibility does sit with the agencies.”

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ACT-IAC, Department of Agriculture (USDA), electronic records management, General Services Administration (GSA), National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Office of Management and Budget (OMB)
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