National records management report shows discrepancies in federal data protection

National records management report shows discrepancies in federal data protection

May 3

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) recently released its annual Records Management Self-Assessment (RMSA) report, which shows many federal agencies are still struggling with proper data backup solutions. The information for the report was collected from NARA’s annual mandatory survey, and 247 different federal organizations’ responses were recorded – with the overall result being that the majority of agencies are at moderate to high risk of bad records management.

The NARA RMSA report designates four major areas that each federal group is measured in: activities (training), oversight and compliance, records disposition, and electronic records. Most organizations show some flaws in at least one of the four areas, either from lack of training initiatives, poor compliance monitoring, a lack of backup scheduling, or a reliance on poor electronic backup methods.

NARA cited several specific trouble areas that most of these agencies share, including poor training standards, a lack of training for senior officials, and a reliance on unreliable backup methods. However, not all of the results are negative. The report shows an overall increase of the percentage of organizations that scored in the “low risk” area and many agencies are beginning to recognize a need for performance metrics. There are still not enough agencies with good disaster recovery practices though, and too many are still relying on physical storage or tape backups, according to the report.

NARA stated that tape is not an effective solution when compared to disk or online backup for electronic data. However, 50 percent of agencies still use tape for their data backup, a metric that pushes them into the moderate risk category. Tape does not provide the same reliability or control that disk or cloud backups do, as agencies cannot easily search for data when it is stored on tape. While 50 percent of agencies are still relying on tape, according to the report, about 40 percent have begun to explore cloud backup, with 25 percent already using it.

One major issue cited as a problem related to electronic records is social media use. Approximately 70 percent of the agencies reported maintaining a presence on social media websites, but only half of those organizations have developed policies for managing the data created by those endeavors and are able to back up that data.

Ultimately, NARA recommends most federal agencies reevaluate their data backup and recovery situations and improve practices and planning in this area.