sprehe on the FEA records management profile

J. Timothy Sprehe, long-time observer of the federal records management scene and president of Sprehe Information Management Associates, has reviewed the initial release of the Records Management Profile of the Federal Enterprise Architecture (FEA) in Federal Computer Week — and finds that the profile “focuses exclusively on the risk management side of records management.”

What does this mean for federal records managers?

Records managers strive to balance the need to safeguard information with the equally important need to disseminate it. The FEA profile for records management is an attempt to do just that for all federal records. But as I’ve written before, I’m not sure that a peaceful accord can always be found between the two — especially, perhaps, in something so ambitiously all-encompassing.

The profile, a joint creation of the Office of Management and Budget, the CIO Council, and the National Archives and Records Administration, is intended to provide a “framework for incorporating statutory records management requirements and sound records management principles seamlessly into agency work processes, enterprise architectures, and information systems.” (You can download the profile in PDF from OMB’s website here).

However, in his review, Sprehe concludes that the profile “makes no connection between records management and information management, information retrieval, information sharing, knowledge management, and content publishing and delivery — all functions in which records play a critical role.

Records are only useful to the extent that the information they contain can be accessed, used, and shared. Any records management plan that doesn’t take that consideration into account — whether applied to a freelancer’s filing cabinet or a corporation’s warehouse — is simply not going to work in practice.

Until it comprehensively addresses the content side of the equation, the initial release of the FEA Records Management Profile risks being little more than a recommendation to buy more shelving.

Author: Paul Lagasse

Paul Lagasse provides expert-to-expert communications services to nonprofit, business, and government clients in the metro Baltimore-DC area. Specialties include science and medical writing, technical report editing, and content marketing.

4 thoughts on “sprehe on the FEA records management profile”

  1. In some way I am delighted that NARA et all are taking a new look at records management. In the digital world that is important. But more important is content, that is the key, and it appears lost.

  2. Hi, MJ —

    I definitely agree. The FEA RM profile is an important step toward providing managers with the tools they need to better integrate information resources into their work processes. It demonstrates that records are integral, but it really doesn’t help managers make better use of them.

    In his FCW commentary, Sprehe laid the blame for this squarely on GSA, which he explains is responsible for setting government-wide standards for information (as opposed to records) management. But I think that this is letting the records managers at NARA off too easily.

    After all, in recent years the records management profession has aggressively re-branded itself to include information management (and even so-called “knowledge management”). It has reached out to both content creators and system administrators. That NARA has yet to follow suit does not absolve it from the responsibility.

    And I say that with all respect and admiration for NARA, where I have been both an employee and a customer. It’s a tough mission, made tougher by the new information technologies. NARA can — and should — step up to fill the gaping void in federal IM.

  3. This is an interesting situation that is brewing the the Federal Agencies since the decision was made to require every Agency to have a CIO and to move the control of the Records Management function under those CIOs. This, which has come from the Clinger-Cohen Act and the Paperwork Reduction Act, along with the e-Gov Initiative haven’t been well supported, not thought out. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how quick Fed CIOs are turning over and no one is able to “chart a course and steer a ship straight” in the short time ech CIO is in place. They come and go, each bringing a new agenda, and none staying long enough to establish policy or practrces. And anyone who has worked in the private sector knows why… CIOs are paid for what they know and what they can do, not for time in grade or on an annual baisis like Feds are. You can’t attract a TRUE CIO-type to these roles in the Fed Govt, simply because the remuneration and job duties aren’t the same as in the private sector.

    Studies over the past 5 years have shown that we have an ever-aging workforce in the Federal Government, and that is very true in RM (which I prefer to think of as RIM, Records AND Information Management, and have for 2 decades now) because new talent isn’t being attracted into that workforce. Every Agency is seeing a downsizing in their RIM staff, and more attention is being paid to the IT aspect of “managing information”, which is essentially just throwing storage at the problem. More and more information is being generated and less and less attention is being paid to what is done with it afterwards… as a primary example, I give you e-mail.

    The classic approach to determining the value of information based on its content and exstablishing formal retention periods appropriate to its information value, then establ;ishing practices to effectively managing that information for those specified periods is being lost. It’s being replaced by a desire to establish “big buckets”, and increase retention periods to simplfy management, but failing to establish sufficient taxonomies, classification tools and controlled vocabularies to improve on the ability to access the information.

    Until Fedral Agencies stop seeing information as a “commodity” and treating it in the manner they are presesntly, the situation won’t improve. The FEA is badly flawed, as it doesn’t take into consideration the VALUE OF THE CONTENT, its attempting to create a structure an then force the information into it. Until someone steps back and evaluates the informtion first, then determines what astructure (or structures)works best to manage it and THEN applies it, the same problem will continue to exist.


  4. Thanks for your insightful comments, Larry. You raise some very interesting points about both the causes and consequences of the RIM problem in the federal government. (And I think it’s great that you’ve combined RM and IM into RIM, a term I will henceforth use here on Active Voice.)

    I share your concern about the misapplication — and the misapprehension — of technology to RIM. The ability to “save everything” is widely seen as the solution to “discard almost everything” — as if discarding was a problem to be solved. But these are really apples and oranges. The ability to store everything doesn’t mean that you can suddenly do away with schedules; the beating heart of schedules is their ability provide managers with intellectual control over records and non-record materials.

    Dumping everything into a “big bucket” and relying on keywords in and out of context to find documents simply doesn’t provide intellectual control. I’m not sure any technology can do that.

    Other than the “wetware” that runs natively in the head of a professionally trained records and information manager, that is.

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