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DoD First to Transfer Digital Records to National Archives

By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 23, 2006 – The Defense Department became the first federal agency to transfer digital records to the National Archives and Records Administration using newly established Electronic Records Archive "pre-accession" guidelines Jan 20.

"The National Archives has a document strategy called Strategic Directions for Federal Records Management, and within that document ... there is a tactic called pre-accession," Paul Wester, director of NARA's Modern Records Program, said. "The significance of this is that we are for the first time bringing electronic records into the National Archives so that they can be preserved and described and eventually be made available."

The records that were transferred were documents from the former Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad. The records' control and access will remain under DoD for the next 25 years, just like hard-copy files.

The pre-accession transfer allows NARA archivists to begin preservation efforts for permanent storage of the electronic records and their subsequent migration to future technologies, John Krysa, chief of the Directives and Records Division for DoD and record administrator for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, said.

The electronic records transfer essentially reduced the equivalent of truckloads of paper down to a couple of shoeboxes, Wester said.

"The records that we're talking about are 800,000 PDF (portable document format) images which have been reduced down to a series of media transfers that will be brought into the archive," Wester said.

According to a National Archives press release, the Electronic Records Archives will be a comprehensive means for preserving virtually any kind of electronic record. When operational, ERA will make it easy for National Archives customers to find records they want and easy for the National Archives to deliver those records in formats suited to customers' needs.

"Usually what happens is that agencies create and keep their records on hand in their facilities to support their business. What we are doing here in this case is bringing in electronic records so that we can ensure that they will be preserved until the end of the republic, as we like to say," Wester said.

About 5 percent of all federal records become permanent and go to the archive, Krysa said.

"When you think records, it was the file folder moved to the box, and then when the file cabinet was full at some point somebody had to decide what do we have to keep temporarily and what do we throw away," Krysa said.

"The normal process of preserving paper documents was to remove staples to avoid rust and put them in acid free boxes, but we are starting to have records that are born electronically and never make it to paper," Krysa said. "It's a new paradigm."

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