“Government efficiency” is often cited as an oxymoron, but occasionally the government attempts to change along with progressing technology. For example, even though fax machines were used for conducting business as early as the late 1960s, faxed signatures were not accepted as legal by state and federal agencies until the late 1980s and early 1990s.
In another display of the government attempting to keep up with ever-progressing technology, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) mandated in 2019 that all federal agencies should transition from paper documents to electronic documents by December 31, 2022 – including digitizing government records that are archived and/or currently in physical storage facilities.
Why Is NARA Mandating Digitizing Government Records?
There are three main drivers for NARA’s mandate: Reduced costs, improved accessibility, and enhanced security.
As NARA said in its mandate, “The processes that create analog records increase burden on citizens by requiring them to conduct business with the Government in person or by mail, rather than online, and trap valuable Federal data in paper records where it can only be extracted manually and at great expense.”
While the initial financial outlay for digitizing government records is not insignificant, the potential savings will far outstrip the costs of the digitization. The government currently pays for physical storage facilities for paper documents requiring temperature controls, fire safety systems, security personnel, etc. Electronic records do not require a similar level of maintenance and thus are much less expensive to store and protect.
As NARA stated, having only paper documents available requires citizens to conduct government business in person or via mail, which can be a difficult process for those who live a significant distance away from a government office or have time-sensitive situations that make conducting business by mail onerous.
It can also be difficult for people with health problems or disabilities, or even those working full-time jobs during standard business hours, to retrieve necessary documents if doing so requires multiple mailed forms or extensive travel.
Digitizing government records improves accessibility by saving travel time, personal time, and postage costs for citizens needing access to specific records or needing assistance retrieving them.
Rather than relying on security personnel to verify identities and control data access, the vetting process can be done electronically and by software programs, greatly reducing the possibility of human error by either the document gatekeeper or the individual applicant.
Computer storage servers are also more cost-effective to secure than physical document storage locations, and they allow for multiple backups in different locations. In the event that a natural disaster or criminal attack damages the location of one electronic record, the documents can be easily restored from a backup version, as opposed to irreplaceable physical documents being irrevocably destroyed.
Recommendations when Digitizing Government Documents
There are a few key recommendations to follow when digitizing government documents.
First, adhere to all protocols described by the Federal Agencies Digital Guidelines Initiative (FADGI), which provides ample instructions for appropriately digitizing various types of materials into specific formats using standardized technical specifications depending on the type of media. They provide ample guidance regarding the best practices for scanning government records.
Second, create a digital filing system. Use appropriate file naming conventions and a clear, simple organizational system so that documents can be easily found and accessed. Ensure that all personnel involved in digitizing government records are aware of and thoroughly trained in both the naming conventions and organizational protocols.
Third, implement a document management system, which is an affordable way to digitize and organize government records. Preferably, choose a system that is already configured for document digitization and storage and has a proven track record of successfully digitizing government records.
Go Find It’s document management system is a reliable and economical tool for both digitizing and organizing government records. Our software will help you upload, organize, and share documents with appropriate parties while remaining secure and compliant. We can help you ensure that your government documents are properly digitized and preserved in time to meet NARA’s December 31, 2022 deadline.