How to Keep Up with NARA Records Management Requirements


If you are responsible for maintaining government records within a federal agency, you and your organization are facing down some important compliance deadlines. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has created a detailed set of rules called the Federal Electronic Records Modernization Initiative (FERMI) designed to ensure all federal government agencies are handling their archival data in an inter-operable, standardized and cost-effective way. FERMI is a follow-up to a presidential directive mandating electronic records management.

NARA noted that despite the differences between agencies’ missions and methods, they are united in their need to keep meticulous records. Carrying out operations such as Freedom of Information Act requests becomes easier when the data in question is kept in approved formats and with optimized practices. Furthermore, getting data transferred to the U.S. National Archives is a smooth process when all other organizations agree on a set of rules and principles.

What Does Your Agency Need to Do to Comply with FERMI?

The date by which government agencies should manage all their permanent, born-digital records in NARA-approved electronic formats is December 31, 2019. Most departments feel comfortable reaching this goal. According to self-assessments compiled in NARA’s Federal Agency Records Management 2018 Annual Report, 98% of agencies intended to be compliant by the end of 2019.

After the first date passes, the real NARA records management challenge will begin for organizations: By the end of 2022, agencies will be required to store and transfer all their records in an electronic format. This includes information that was initially saved on physical documents, as well as records intended to be temporary instead of permanent.

By the time December 31, 2022 arrives, your agency will need a way to create a consistent archive of every piece of content, from born-digital files such as HTML documents, Microsoft Office files and emails with attachments to converted papers. You should think about procuring the necessary technology and setting up workflows as soon as possible to ensure this new process is firmly in place by the deadline. While agencies had six years to get in compliance when FERMI was initially announced, the three years now remaining leave significantly less wiggle room.

One of the first steps in complying with the NARA directive is choosing a format for your converted documents. PDF/A, an archival version of PDF maintained by the International Standards Organization (ISO) specifically to be future-proof and usable for years to come, is the top choice for agencies of all kinds. NARA recommends PDF/A, which works for pages of text, images and mixed documents, and the advantages of using this format can generate operational benefits immediately, justifying a timely investment in conversion solutions.

Why Should You Convert Records to PDF/A Immediately?

The advantages of standardizing your records in the PDF/A format go beyond compliance-driven peace of mind. For instance, when you apply compression to your PDF/A documents, you can drastically reduce their stored size. This in turn leads to fewer servers and less of your departmental budget expended on server room space, hardware and energy. By converting and compressing their archives, government agencies and other entities can cut their storage costs by up to 50%. The same types of savings can be realized for agencies with cloud storage environments.

In addition to the economic benefits of compression, PDF/A is also easier to work with than other file types such as TIFF images. Image files are “flat,” meaning searches through the archives cannot discover text written in the images. PDF/A documents can contain searchable text, whether the information was copied over from another digital format or discovered via optical character recognition (OCR). The latter method is applied to scans of physical records to make them searchable parts of a digital archive.

When carrying out a search for specific, relevant data – including when carrying out a FOIA request – your personnel will benefit immensely from having internally searchable text. If documents are flat image files, employees may have to waste man-hours reading through hundreds or thousands of pages, determining which contain pertinent information. Eliminating this step allows those individuals to spend their time and effort on value-adding work for your agency.

While your organization may not have started to think about conversion yet, especially when dealing with physical archives in need of scanning, you can start at any time. Every month you spend with efficiently compressed archives of PDF/A documents, with their easy-access features, you can realize cost and efficiency benefits. Making your agency run more smoothly will pay off in the short term, and as the 2022 deadline approaches, you’ll be perfectly aligned with NARA FERMI goals.

What Type of Conversion Solution Should You Choose?

Selecting a technology tool to convert your documents to PDF/A, applying compression and OCR where needed, is an integral part of any compliance plan. Keeping in mind that your newly converted archives will ideally provide operational efficiency and cost-savings to your agency, you should make sure your chosen conversion system does not undermine these advantages by wasting too many man-hours on complex or less-than-intuitive operations.

The ideal solution is one that can process large batches of documents with minimal hands-on oversight by your team. With employees free to keep working on their everyday value-adding tasks, you don’t have to significantly cut down your office’s productivity, even when there is a large scanning and conversion job to process. Scalability is essential, with the ideal technology being able to use multi-core processing across server environments for quick and efficient conversion of large archives, but not hogging computing resources when dealing with lighter conversion demand.

Additional quality-of-life features set market-leading conversion technologies apart from average solutions. For instance, you should find a tech tool that can integrate with your other data management solutions such as enterprise resource management for seamless access to necessary files. Advanced functionality can also determine which documents require OCR and which already have searchable text without manual user intervention. By not applying OCR to documents that don’t require it, solutions save substantial processing time and ensure 100% accurate text recognition quality by default.

Getting a head start on the NARA FERMI compliance process can deliver everyday efficiency boosts for your agency today, as well as the approval of NARA investigators if your organization is chosen for a random assessment. Contact Foxit Software today to learn how to create this type of change in your federal records management.

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