In September 1946, the United States and the rest of the globe was a year removed from World War II, and many nations were focusing on returning to a sense of normalcy. In Washington, President Harry Truman was busy looking for ways to usher America into a new era.
The 33rd President of the United States initiated widespread change during this time, issuing 147 Executive Orders during his first full year in office following the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Among those directives was Executive Order 9784 – Providing for the More Efficient Use and for the Transfer and Other Disposition of Government Records.
It was the first time in this nation’s history that government records and information management was given such a high priority. It could have been the impact of WWII or perhaps uncanny foresight on Truman’s part that made him completely alter the nation’s records storage practices. Whatever the motivation behind it, Executive Order 9784 launched sweeping change across the entire government.
Fast forward 65 years to November of last year and you can see for yourself how history truly does repeat itself.
Like Truman, the 44th president, Barack Obama, was also steering the nation out of global wars that very well may have changed the course of history. Troops were about to leave Iraq completely and combat operations in Afghanistan were past the height of fighting years before.
At that moment, again, much like Truman before him, Obama thought it right to once again turn the practice of government records management on its head. On November 28, Obama issued a presidential memo calling on public organizations to rethink their means for producing, storing and maintaining records and documents.
Specifically, the president asked the government to prioritize the use of electronic data. Paper is not yet a thing of the past, but Obama realized that the government was in need of modernization to keep up with the changing technology landscape.
Though not an Executive Order like Truman’s declaration, the Obama memorandum is still believed to institute widespread change across the government.
“The current federal records management system is based on an outdated approach involving paper and filing cabinets,” Obama said. “Today’s action will move the process into the digital age so the American public can have access to clear and accurate information about the decisions and actions of the federal government.”
Truman and Obama may not be compared all that often, but here it’s unquestionable that the two men share the same views and goals when it comes to government transparency and the need to preserve records.
“Agencies shall retain in their custody only those records that are needed in the conduct of their current business, and except as herein otherwise provided, shall promptly cause all other records to be offered for transfer to the National Archives or proposed for other disposition in accordance with law,” Truman wrote in Executive Order 9784.
Under both plans, heads of government agencies were ordered to devise and communicate a clear strategy for how a government records management program will be run. Later this spring is when agencies are required to submit their data digitization and storage plans for review by the Obama White House.
At the moment there’s no telling to what extent government organizations and the nation as a whole will benefit from this new government records direction. One thing you can be sure of, though, is that we haven’t seen the last of government records management changes. We’ll see what happens in another seven decades.
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