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COMMENTARY

Management of DOD records is made easier with the right framework

Records management can be a chore, especially for agencies with billions of active records. However, missing critical information, having conflicting information or not having documents in a digital format is incentive enough to take records management policies seriously. The tangible benefits of transparency, efficiency and accountability are well established and worth the effort.

The Department of Defense is serious enough about records management that its program calls for information and intellectual capital to “be managed as national assets” -- i.e., with the proper effort and attention to best practices. This is true whether the information is being generated and stored physically or electronically. For records and information management, DOD agencies must consider the full information lifecycle, ensuring strategies in place apply to all information -- both current and future -- in digital and physical formats.

DOD can effectively manage these assets by focusing on full lifecycle information management, which starts when the record is created or received. Later, it covers its usage, storage, retrieval and maintenance. At the final stage of the lifecycle is disposition -- either destruction or permanent retention in accordance with an identified

With this in place, DOD will be able to better understand their information, systems and documents, identify sensitive information, monitor the use of assets, gain records retention schedule. Records must also be managed with the proper security and protection, especially when it comes to mission- or national security-related information. The benefits of this approach include improved access, greater compliance, risk mitigation, cost savings and overall improved organizational efficiency.

Effectively managing the information lifecycle involves several steps. That said, there are some key initiatives that DOD can pursue to see real benefits in its records management programs, including:

Establishing an information management framework. Addressing issues spanning risk management, retention, compliance and disposition is an important early step. This gives DOD added control over its information, from record creation to final disposition. To establish the framework, DOD must first conduct a complete information inventory and develop information maps, which are databases that identify what systems, applications and repositories it has, where they are located and who is responsible for managing them.

analytical insight and update information.

Applying metadata and analytics capabilities. To have fully modernized records management and search functionalities, agencies need comprehensive metadata tagging. Metadata is vital to managing, accessing and tracking information throughout its lifecycle, providing details about records, such as their content and characteristics, and ultimately ensuring DOD records are exported in a standardized, usable format.

Enforcing access controls. DOD can protect information through its required identity and access management practices. One cost-saving solution involves using secure, offsite storage options. Suitable facilities can be certified by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to ensure they meet all requirements for storing federal records and can also certified for Classified Secret or Top Secret material according to the National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual. These certifications set standards for physical security, including access-controlled security cages and other internal measures; controlled parking, loading dock access and external safeguards; and fire, water, temperature and other environmental protections.

These offsite facilities help limit risks associated with lost, damaged or stolen records, while enhancing records retention practices and making information readily accessible. 

Maintaining a strong chain of custody, from ingestion and cataloging to subsequent preservation and distribution. This requires a step-by-step process to ensure complete security and should include assigning a unique identifier for location tracking. Whenever an item is retrieved, accessed or distributed, this information goes into the permanent unique record for that item. From a facility perspective, personnel and visitors must scan to enter and exit any room. The end result of these procedures ensures the DOD’s records remain secure.

Managing the records and information process. DOD should develop an enterprise strategy that applies to all digital and physical information, both current and future. This means establishing processes for inbound and outbound paper and tape record storage and retrieval services, long-term archiving and preservation, pick-up of newly created records, digitization of records and disposition requirements including accession, archiving or destruction.

According to the DOD’s Senior Agency Official for Records Management 2018 Annual Report, issued in May 2019, DOD is well on its way toward successfully implementing the NARA's Managing Government Records Directive (M-12-18).  This is clearly a step in the right direction as the DOD continues to focus on managing its records as national assets. Placing an increased focus on the full information lifecycle, including real emphasis on the items outlined above, will only strengthen the DOD’s records and information management program, now and into the future.

About the Author

Wayne Starrs is senior director of operations and strategic programs with Iron Mountain Government Solutions.

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