The public sector has long relied on paper-based filing systems, and despite technological advancements, government agencies have struggled to go entirely paperless. The cost of digitizing records is one of the primary reasons why they require filing systems. Many agencies have large volumes of paper records, which can be time-consuming and costly to scan and index. Maintaining digital systems, including hardware, software, and IT support, can be expensive, particularly for smaller agencies with limited budgets.
Regulatory compliance is another factor that necessitates filing systems for government agencies. Many government agencies are subject to strict regulations around storing and managing sensitive information, such as health records, financial data, and personal information. Government agencies must have robust filing systems to ensure compliance with these regulations; failure to comply can result in legal or financial penalties. Compliance requirements may necessitate agencies to maintain physical copies of certain documents or implement specific security measures to protect digital records.
Some of the top regulations governing compliant storage, transfer, and disposition of records are:
- The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
- The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP)
- NARA (National Archives and Records Administration) Guidance
- Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX)
Some government agencies handle sensitive patient medical information. For example, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides healthcare services to veterans and maintains medical records for those patients. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collects and analyzes health data to monitor disease outbreaks and develop public health strategies. Additionally, various state and local health departments collect and maintain medical information for public health purposes. These agencies are subject to HIPAA regulations and must protect and secure sensitive patient medical information.
Government agencies must file and serve certain legal documents in physical form, including court documents such as complaints, motions, and pleadings. The FRCP also requires agencies to retain physical copies of certain records for a specified period.
Government agencies typically use physical filing systems to store and manage these documents to comply with these requirements, including creating and organizing physical files, labeling and indexing them for easy retrieval, and implementing appropriate security measures to protect sensitive information. Agencies must also train staff on proper filing and storage procedures, establish retention schedules for different records, and develop disaster recovery plans to ensure that physical copies of critical documents are backed up and protected.
Some government agencies may choose to use document management systems that integrate physical and digital records, allowing for easier management and retrieval of information. However, to comply with FRCP, physical copies of certain records must still be maintained and made available as needed.
NARA recommends that agencies maintain a “vital records” program that includes physical backup copies of critical documents. Agencies must also follow NARA’s regulations on transferring and disposing of records, which outline the procedures for transferring records to NARA’s custody or destroying them.
Government agencies must develop and implement record management policies and procedures to comply with NARA’s guidance, including identifying and classifying records, establishing retention schedules, and ensuring that records are appropriately stored and protected. Agencies must also train their employees on record management best practices and ensure that they follow established procedures for managing and disposing of records.
Additionally, government agencies may work with NARA to transfer their records to NARA’s custody for long-term preservation. NARA guides and assists agencies in the transfer process, including preparing transfer requests and packing and shipment records.
Government agencies must ensure that they physically retain their financial records for seven years to comply with this law. They may use digital records to supplement physical forms but must keep the original physical documents to ensure compliance.
Government agencies must also ensure that their financial records are accurate and complete, and they must establish internal controls to prevent fraud and ensure the integrity of financial reporting. They may also be subject to audits by independent auditors, who will review their financial records and internal controls to ensure compliance with the law.
Disaster recovery is another factor requiring government agency filing systems. Natural disasters, cyber-attacks, and other events can result in the loss or corruption of digital records, making it crucial for agencies to maintain physical backups of critical documents. Physical filing systems ensure that vital records are not lost during a disaster, providing a reliable backup solution.
While digital systems have the potential to improve efficiency and reduce costs, government agencies are often required to maintain physical filing systems to comply with various laws, regulations, and industry standards. Government agencies must carefully manage and organize their physical records to ensure compliance and provide reliable backups during disasters or system failures.