It has been just over two months since the White House outlined in a memo the steps federal agencies must take ahead of the December 31, 2022 deadline by which they need to have the ability to manage all of their permanent records digitally.

So far, 98% of federal agencies have estimated that they would be able to fully manage their permanent electronic records by the end of 2019, according to the federal New Network, in compliance with a deadline for the Trump Administration's reorganization plan announced in June 2018 that ultimately requires that the National Archives and Records Administration not accept any more physical permanent records from federal agencies starting in 2023.

Physical record storage comes at a cost to taxpayers

Federal agencies themselves will be responsible for meeting the requirements specified in the plan, one of which includes that by a 2019-year-end deadline they must have the ability to manage all of their electronic records solely on a digital basis "for eventual transfer and accessioning by NARA in an electronic format," according to the memo.

In the memo, acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russ Vought and US Archivist David Ferriero argued that each year, "hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars" and "thousands of hours" are spent on resources to store physical records.

According to a Federal Records Management Council white paper containing a cost benefit analysis regarding the digitization of records as opposed to their physical storage, the former was found to be more cost-efficient than the latter due to savings on real estate and improved information access, among other benefits.

In the event that physical records are damaged or lost, the cost to restore or recover them and associated "operational downtime can far exceed initial investments to safeguard records," compared to a "modern digitization strategy," according to the FRMC document.

cost to remediate exposed, lost or damaged records and/or recover from operational downtime can far exceed initial investments to safeguard records through a modern digitization strategy.

Federal agencies noting benefits of digitizing permanent records

At least two federal agencies – the Library of Congress and Department of Energy – have already noted the benefits that have come along with the full-digitization of their records so far.

The former has invested in a bevy of high-end document scanning technologies, including "ultrahigh-end, medium-format digital cameras" and even "floor-mounted" scanners that can quickly copy exceptionally large original documents. Some of the benefits of modern scanning technology noted by those at the Library include the ability to allow for clearer viewing of faded colors and texts on original documents, such as Thomas Jefferson's use of the word "subjects," and not "citizens" (as originally thought) in the Declaration of Independence, for example.

According to Thomas Rieger, manager of digitization services at the Library of Congress, using the highest-quality scanning equipment in turn translates to a relatively lower cost per image.

At the Department of Energy, electronic recordkeeping in recent years has made both employees' and internal customers' work much more efficient when it comes to the time and effort required to access documents, one DOE employee observed.