established in 2001 sets enterprisewide policies for electronic records management, Miszewski said. The state also published "a business-oriented primer" to help employees interpret the rule, so they understand what does and does not need to be retained, he said.

The state has been getting stakeholders to specify their records retention requirements and is preparing to procure an information system for managing records across the entire state government. It's important to take an enterprise approach because Wisconsin's state workers often move from one department to another, Miszewski said. "We'd like to make sure the records management system is the same across those functional silos."

As part of a project to consolidate the state government's e-mail systems, Wisconsin is developing a draft standard to govern how users should save e-mails as public records. Creating policies for an application as widely and frequently used as e-mail is complicated. "And we're not done," Miszewski said. "There is still a significant amount of debate going back and forth among different departments that have really different issues with regard to e-mail retention."

In Delaware, a "quick and dirty" study of e-mail conducted along with two other states revealed that only 2 percent to 5 percent of the messages in government users' inboxes meet the criteria for records that need to be maintained for long periods, Slavin said. "But the problem we have is that it's easier to keep [messages] electronically -- you just build a bigger mailbox."

Governments must train users to manage records like these at the point of use, Slavin said. Records management systems that can automate some of this task for users are starting to emerge, he said.

Building It In Up Front

To this end, Delaware published a series of guidelines to help ensure that when government agencies develop applications, they build records management functions into them. "Records management used to be done primarily after records creation," Slavin said. "Now we're beginning to see records management done prior to records creation."

Building records management into applications up front is a priority for Minneapolis as well. Together with the city's Department of Business Information Services, the Records Management department developed an initiative called Enterprise Information Management (EIM). Among the policies developed under EIM is one stipulating that every time a city department develops a new information system, part of the project budget must be devoted to records management concerns.

So when the City Attorney's Office developed a new case management information system last year, money was earmarked for information management requirements, which includes the retention schedule and record keeping requirements, Steiner said.

City departments will also have to add information management requirements as they update their five-year business plans. "Not only do we want to hit departments when they're developing a new system, we want them to be strategically planning for how they're going to meet their basic information management requirements," Steiner said.

Initiatives like these could soon pull governments out of the dim ages and back into the light. It's an urgent mission, Miszewski observed. "The records being lost are lost forever. The ones being over-saved are incomprehensible and unusable." The result, he said, "is simply unacceptable moving forward."

Merrill Douglas  |  Contributing Writer