NARA Seeks to "Maximize" its Value to Nation
11/17/2014 12:00 am
By David S. Ferriero
Archivist of the United States
In two previous columns, I discussed the first two of four goals of
the 2014-2018 Strategic Plan for the National Archives and Records
The first was “Make Access Happen,” a review of how we’re going to
make as much of our holdings as possible accessible to everyone. The
second was “Connect with Customers,” our plans to engage our customers
more so we can respond to their needs more efficiency and more
The third goal is “Maximize NARA’s Value to the Nation.”
It means we recognize that “public access to government information
creates measurable economic value, which adds to the enduring cultural
and historical value of our records. . . .We will strive to implement
new business practices to achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness
in all we do and ensure institutional sustainability.”
To achieve this third goal, we are at work on a number of fronts.
With a mandate from the Office of Management and Budget, we have
directed government departments and agencies to get their recordkeeping
in order in the next few years, and we have established deadlines for
them to do so. We’re also helping them with guidance and assistance.
We must move more quickly toward digital recordkeeping, even as we reform records management, and develop 21st century methods.
This is especially important as we continue the transition to a
digital government in which all records will be electronic, not on
paper. That includes emails, too. And we have already begun the long,
labor-intensive task of digitizing the 12 billion pieces of paper
created since our government began.
With records preserved in an orderly fashion, it’s easier for any
private individual to use them for personal use. And it’s easier for
businesses to use them for research or commercial use, and reuse, that
creates economy activity.
And we’re also at work seeking to develop a means to measure the
economic impact of the repeated use of the records in our
custody—especially to the local economies where our 40-plus facilities
But the heart of our efforts to “maximize NARA’s value to the nation”
is our unshakable commitment to the cultural and historic values of the
records, values likely to increase. It is a commitment not only to
preserve them for generations to come but also to make them as
accessible as possible to today’s generations.
Actions we have taken, and will take, regarding the records will
further enhance the ability of researchers to generate new scholarship
and of families to trace their history. And we’ll provide them with the
records they need in whatever format they want, as quickly as possible
anytime and anywhere.
We are constantly striving for increased efficiency and effectiveness
in all our work, both internally and externally. This, of course, is
especially important in an era of diminishing federal resources.
One way will be better utilization of our brick and mortar facilities
to bring in revenue, just as we already do when we allow outside groups
to use our downtown Washington building for events.
We also want to learn more about the effectiveness of our programs,
products, and services, an intangible that is difficult to measure. But
we are working on ways to help us do so.
For our customers to appreciate “NARA’s value to the nation,” they
need to know more about us, and that’s what traveling exhibitions and
loaned documents are all about—showing Americans what’s in their
national file cabinet, much like what the Freedom Train that crossed the
nation did in the late 1940s.
To “maximize NARA’s value to the nation,” we will need to develop an
entrepreneurial culture and make a business case for what we do,
especially in these austere fiscal times.
But we have the advantage of already being for Americans a trusted
source—with those founding documents that guarantee their rights, hold
government officials accountable, and preserve the story of the nation.
These records, then, make up part of the wealth of our nation. It is wealth to be treasured—and to be shared.