NARA should place greater emphasis on developing guidelines and agreements with the agencies to ensure provision of data in a usable form, i.e., relatively clear, hardware and software independent, and appropriate periodicity.
NARA should include in its GAPS directory of electronic databases in the National Archives those scheduled as well as those accepted. The panel supports NARA's efforts in building the Archival Information Systems and PRESNET to reflect the total holdings of the National Archives.
NARA should improve and publicize its system for assessing how much and what kind of documentation agencies should supply for individual databases.
With cooperation from OMB and NIST, NARA should continue to play an aggressive role in developing and promulgating governmentwide standards for documentation of electronic databases.
When appropriate, additional Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) in this area should be developed.
This effort should include standards for documentation of textual as well as statistical databases.
With regard to documentation standards, NARA should actively seek to document data collection methods, error profiles and error measurement, and use in the agency.
With regard to electronic databases, NARA should investigate situations in which it is in the public interest for other organizations to retain physically the archival records under NARA guidelines and control.
When authorizing other organizations to preserve databases, the National Archives should exercise control to ensure that appropriate standards and guidelines are met. NARA should execute formal agreements with agencies binding them to archival standards, including adequate access to databases.
NARA should examine its relationship to large data centers such as the archives of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at the University of Wisconsin and the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research at the University of Michigan. Data from these archives should not necessarily be excluded from NARA collections.
The access and retention problems posed by contractor-provided data should be addressed. The recent trend toward agency use of private contractors to develop databases should be reassessed to ensure that there is adequate protection of data for historical and research purposes. Contracting regulations should be amended to ensure that the ultimate “ownership” and disposition of data are covered as a matter of course in any contract documents.
NARA should assist agencies in developing internal policies and “minimalist” guidelines for preservation of small databases, many of which exist on desktop computers (PCs) in offices, or on laptop, notebook, or palm-held computers used in field situations of the military services or park and forest services.
NARA should develop a long-term strategy for accessibility of electronic databases that incorporates providing networked access to the data and textual databases the National Archives holds.