US federal agencies to go paperless by 2022

By on 09/07/2019
Off the record: The USA is to move all federal records from paper to digital formats (Image courtesy: Chris Stermitz/Pixabay).

All USA government agencies have been instructed to keep paperless records, switching to a digital format by the end of 2022. The instruction comes from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which has announced that after that date the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) – which stores data from across federal agencies – will no longer accept paper files.

According to a memo released by the OMB last week: “The Federal Government spends hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars and thousands of hours annually to create, use, and store federal records in analog[ue] (paper and other non-electronic) formats. Maintaining large volumes of analog records requires dedicated resources, management attention, and security investments that should be applied to more effectively managing electronic records.”

The OMB directs agencies to “transition record-keeping to a fully electronic environment that complies with all records management laws and regulations.” And it calls on them to “develop plans to close agency-operated storage facilities for paper and other analog records,” asking for those records to transfer to NARA centres or commercial storage facilities by December 31st 2022.

According to the memo, the practice of recording data on paper increases the “burden on citizens by requiring them to conduct business with the government in person or by mail, rather than online.” The process also traps “valuable federal data in paper records where it can only be extracted manually and at great expense.”

Dead tree deadline

The OMB document goes on to provide a series of deadlines, and guidance on how agencies can switch to digital storage.

By the end of this year agencies should “manage all permanent electronic records in an electronic format,” and “to the fullest extent possible” this should include all temporary records by December 31 2022. 

For their part, NARA and OPM “will take steps to assist all agencies in transitioning to fully electronic records management.” NARA will issue “updated regulations and guidance to provide clear standards for fully electronic record-keeping, including electronic records storage, formats, and metadata, as well as transfer guidance” by September 30 2020. 

Meanwhile, OPM will update job descriptions for all archivists and records and information management employees to include electronic record-keeping skills by December 31 2020.

About Natalie Leal

Natalie is a freelance journalist whose work has been published by The Sun Online, The Guardian, Novara Media, Positive News, and Welfare Weekly, among others. She also writes reports and case studies on global business trends for behavioural insights agency, Canvas8. Prior to working as a journalist Natalie worked for the public sector in social services for several years. She switched careers in 2013 after winning a fully funded NCTJ in a national writing competition. She holds a Masters degree in social anthropology from Sussex University where she specialised in processes of social change and international conflict and reconciliation processes.

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