The increased adoption of digital communication tools by government agencies has led The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to expand its “Capstone Approach” for managing electronic email records to emerging digital communication platforms. Laurence Brewer, the U.S. chief records officer at NARA, states that this surge of electronic records, which stems from virtual working environments forced by covid-19 pandemic, has impacted electronic records management in government agencies.
The new NARA Capstone Approach expansion helps agencies manage other digital communications, including text messaging, social media, and collaboration platforms. In light of this expansion, federal agencies must maintain a robust and secure messaging platform to capture and archive work-related communication records.
What is the existing Capstone Approach?
The NARA published the Guidance on a New Approach to Managing Email Records in 2013, introducing the Capstone Approach, which served as a guide for managing federal email records electronically. A NARA white paper revealed that this Capstone approach was introduced due to increasing instances where agencies lost or mismanaged important emails. After the Jan 6 missing texts, the relevancy of this approach for modern communication platforms has increased more than ever before.
The Capstone Approach successfully replaced traditional email management that used print and file systems with a simple and automated role-based categorizing and scheduling approach. As a result, the agencies can determine whether a record should be permanent or temporary based on the position or role of the email account owner.
● Permanent records
The records of officials at the top of the organization hierarchy should be deemed permanent. The agencies can capture and transfer them to National Archives for permanent storage. Also, the email accounts of additional employees in a position “likely to create or receive permanent email records” may designate as Capstone. The emails of capstone accounts can be considered permanent records.
● Temporary records
All other email records not captured as permanent should be considered temporary records that must be scheduled for retention for some time according to the agency’s requirements and disposed of after that.
This capstone approach now applies to all electronic messages from text and instant messaging, social media, and collaboration applications. Therefore, all electronic records from high-level roles and positions must be categorized as permanent, and all records from all other officials must be scheduled as temporary.
How do agencies benefit from the new expansion to the capstone approach?
Expanding the existing NARA capstone approach for all digital records provides agencies with several benefits:
- Eliminates the need for user-dependent policies
- Helps relieves the staff and agency offices from the burden of managing digital communication records themselves, thereby letting them focus on important agency work
- Simplifies and automates electronic records management across all departments
- Provides a unified and practical method to manage email and all other electronic messages
- Simplifying and optimizing the support for e-discovery requests by regulatory authorities
- Lowers security and privacy risks like unauthorized access, accidental deletion, etc., for all electronic records
- Allows using existing messaging solutions or archival technologies for other uses like analytics for optimizing business operations
- Allows agencies to offer more options for automated disposition policies
The risks associated with Capstone Approach
Although expanding the Capstone Approach to every digital communication method provides immense benefits for agencies, they must also consider the following risks associated with this approach.
- Risk of choosing irrelevant permanent positions.
- Risk of Including personal and other non-record messages as permanent records. Therefore, agencies must decide if users can delete these non-essential records based on their technology and policy requirements. Also, agencies must dispose of the temporary records according to the regulations of approved disposition authorities.
- Risks of meeting other regulatory requirements. According to NARA regulations, record management is a responsibility all agencies must satisfy.
Best practices to follow when expanding the Capstone Approach
Expanding the Capstone Approach for capturing, managing, and securing all forms of electronic messages helps agencies stay compliant with NARA regulations. At the same time, there are certain aspects they address to eliminate any loopholes. Following are the best practices agencies must follow to make this expansion the right way:
Scheduling of all electronic messages
Ensure the scheduling of all electronic messages by working with the NARA Appraisal Archivist using new schedules or existing or general recording schedules to cover all electronic messages.
Maintain the necessary security measures
Ensure security measures are in place to prevent unauthorized access, modification, or deletion of declared records. This should also include the prevention of message auto-deletion, which could result in deleting work-related messages.
Maintain accessibility and usability of all records
All electronic message records must be accessible to all authorized staff until they are required for the business. Also, if the agencies change the records to another repository, they must ensure they are retrievable and usable.
Maintain record relevance
Maintains all the related records together based on the agency requirements using electronic pointers like meta tags, electronic cases, or project files.
Preserve all metadata
Ensure all metadata are maintained according to state in NARA Bulletin 2015-04, Metadata Guidance for the Transfer of Permanent Electronic Records. For example, preserve the dates, sender names, etc., of emails and all other forms of electronic records. Agency must ensure their record capturing vendor can capture and export the required metadata elements.
Transfer permanent records according to NARA guidance
Transfer permanent records to NARA archives according to the NARA transfer and current NARA accessioning guidance in unencrypted format and with proper documentation.
How does LeapXpert help agencies implement the new Capstone Approach?
To support the expansion of the Capstone Approach, federal agencies must maintain a robust and secure messaging platform that enables them to capture and archive all work-related digital communication records. LeapXpert provides a modern archiving, surveillance, and compliance solution for NARA-regulated agencies. The LeapXpert Communications Platform, with its federated architecture, seamlessly integrates with the most used messaging apps like WhatsApp, iMessage, and Telegram. It includes all the necessary security measures like encryption, access control, capture and preserving all the metadata, and maintains the accessibility and usability of records.
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