Email records cloud: On the horizon for National Archives?

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As the National Archives ramps up its plans to update how the government manages email records, one senior official said the agency would eventually look to the cloud for storage.

“We’re moving there,” said Gary Stern, National Archives general council, during a public meeting on email archiving Thursday. “But we’re not there yet.”

Under a program called Capstone, agencies will need to manage their own email records through an automated or electronic system by next year. (Currently, most use a system where they print and file their important emails.) But to preserve their most important emails with the National Archives, agencies need to deliver it to the Electronic Records Archives, a digital library housed on hardware at a government data center in West Virginia.

Most agencies use media or hardware devices to get records into the system, Laura Diachenko, a spokeswoman for the National Archives, said in an email.

“NARA staff will either upload the electronic files into ERA directly using secure file transfer protocols or, for larger data sets, NARA may deliver them to our data center for ingest to avoid issues due to network bandwidth limitations,” Diachenko said in the email.

At the meeting, one attendee asked whether agencies could transfer their records directly to the ERA. But Stern said that isn’t possible now.

“We’re in constant improvement of the system … and as time goes on, that should be routine and possible,” Stern said. “But right now, it’s not. Certainly not at large volumes. ”

Also during the meeting, Paul Wester, National Archives chief records officer, said his agency was developing rules to govern metadata — that is, additional data that makes it easier to search the information — for emails that are archived. The Government Accountability Office called out the National Archives last week for failing to take this step so far.

Thursday’s discussion took place during a meeting about establishing a proposed general records schedule under Capstone. The records management professionals who attended the meeting asked questions ranging from how to determine what officials are covered by Capstone to how to cull through the emails that should be saved.

The meeting comes amid increased public interest in how the government handles its emails, particularly after news about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s controversial use of a private email system while she was in office.

The public can send comments about the general records schedule to the National Archives to request.schedule@nara.gov through June 1.

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Agencies, National Archives and Records Administration