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Federal Agencies Lack Confidence in Records and Information Management Practices

Federal agencies have made great strides in modernizing their records management programs and practices in recent years, but the changes have been slow and key federal managers still lack confidence in their agency’s records management practices, according to a new survey from Iron Mountain Incorporated, a leading provider of storage and information management services.

Conducted by market research company, Market Connections, Inc., the blind survey of 150 federal employees involved with records management found 85 percent of federal employees surveyed said they are not fully convinced current records management practices are meeting the needs of their agency.

Consequently, only one third of respondents are very confident their agency’s records are not at risk and only 41 percent believe they could access their critical information in the event of a disaster.

“Agencies need to look at their overall information management posture and consider what changes they need to make to further the adoption of an enterprise-wide strategy to better their information’s security, governance, access and value,” said Tyler Morris, director, product management for Iron Mountain Government Services.

Federal agencies are tasked with the stewardship of enormous amounts of agency records, which the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) defines as “all recorded information, regardless of form or characteristics … because of the informational value of data in them.” These records include paper and data records that must be maintained to comply with federal regulations.

According to Navigating the Storm, an Iron Mountain sponsored survey, the average number of records maintained by federal agencies is expected to reach 511 million this year, a 144 percent increase since 2010.

President Obama enacted the Presidential Directive on Managing Government Records in 2011 to reform records management programs and practices. Since then, agencies have taken steps to overhaul and modernize information management processes. However, more can be done to remedy deficiencies in training, awareness and resources.

“NARA and the Office of Management and Budget have made great strides in providing needed records management oversight, but much still needs to be done to close the confidence gap at the agency level,” Morris said.

The agency employees tasked with managing information risk include records management (RM) officials and line of business (LOB) managers. Less than one quarter believe they have sufficient access to manage records under their immediate control. Furthermore, only 35 percent of LOB managers are very confident the records under their immediate control are not at risk versus 63 percent of RM professionals.

“A lack of confidence in an agency’s ability to manage risk may be tied to the fact the majority of those responsible for the preservation of the agency’s information do not feel they have the ability to manage records under their immediate control,” Morris said.

The survey revealed a number of disparities between how LOB Managers and RM professionals view risk, which could be attributed to a lack of communication between these groups. For example, 42 percent of LOB Mangers do not know who their records liaison officers (RLOs) are and only 31 percent engage with their RLOs weekly or monthly. Moreover, one third of respondents never engage with their counterparts.

To reduce agency risk, LOB managers and RM professionals need to improve communication and collaboration by engaging regularly.

“Aligning the records professionals and IT Managers on their records management initiatives minimizes the lack of confidence, risk, ability to comply with regulations,” said Iron Mountain RIM Product Manager April Chen. “Regular communication is critical to this alignment and better information management practices.”

Improved training and awareness on records and information management policies was cited as one of the most vital recommendations to ensuring federal records are secure. An overwhelming 98 percent of respondents rate records and information management training they have received as “somewhat” or “very effective.”

The respondents indicate that training minimizes the legal/financial risk of non-compliance, ensures quicker response to information requests and audits, and better disaster preparedness. Despite these benefits, only 39 percent report all employees receive formal training to help them manage records in their immediate control, while 17 percent have not received any training at all.

“Agencies have the opportunity to turn information into an asset to enhance decision-making, lower risk and maximize investments,” Morris said. “By adopting a formal information governance model, agencies can build a comprehensive strategy for information asset lifecycle management, take control of their information as well as continue to improve their records and information management risk profile.”

As federal records management procedures continues to evolve, engaging with industry experts on best practices, updating management policies, implementing consistent training for LOB managers and RM professionals, and improving communication will help to ensure that agency records are secure.

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