This week President Obama initiated a government-wide effort to improve the way agencies manage their records.  In a memorandum to agency heads, the president directed federal agencies to take specific action to reform records management policies, and the way they store and maintain records.  “Improving records management will improve and promote openness and accountability by better documenting agency actions and decisions,” the president said in the memo.

Records management policies and practices must be updated to reflect the digital age to avoid higher costs and lost records, the memo underscored.  “When records are well managed, agencies can use them to access the impact of programs, to reduce redundant efforts, to save money, and to share knowledge within and across organizations.”

This direction follows Executive Order 13589 (Promoting Efficient Spending) issued earlier this month.  That order directed agencies to plan for significant cuts to travel, employee information technology (IT) devices, printing, executive motor vehicles, and promotional items in the FY2013 budget.

The presidential memo directs agency heads to conduct a review of their records management program, especially in regards to electronic records management, identify legal or regulatory impediments to establishing “cost effective records management policies,” and identify changes that would aid in efforts to improve management.  A report on this effort is due to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Archivist of the United States within 120 days.

Within four months of receiving agency reports, OMB will issue a directive that requires agency heads to act to reform records management policies.  The directive is to focus on 1) creating a government-wide records management framework; 2) promoting policies that improve agencies ability to meet statutory missions; 3) maintaining accountability; 4) increasing public access to government records; and 5) transitioning from paper to electronic records management where possible.

Cass Sunstein, Administrator for OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, pointed out in an OMB blog that the framework for much of existing records management is based on “paper and filing cabinets.”  The digital age affords “extraordinary opportunities to improve records management” in a way that will “save money, improve efficiency, promote openness, and increase both accuracy and transparency.”