Section 5: New and Ongoing Open Government Initiatives
NARA’s open data efforts directly fuel the agency’s mission to “drive openness, cultivate public participation, and strengthen our nation’s democracy through public access to high-value government records.” NARA works to make open data assets available every day—both within the agency’s historical records and within NARA’s operational records.
Access to data in the form of our historical records, or holdings, is a core part of our mission. We work to unlock information that may be held within analog formats, through digitization, optical character recognition (OCR), and crowdsourced tagging and transcription. We face challenges scaling this work with more than 12 billion pages of paper records, including handwritten records. We prioritize these efforts and pursue partnership agreements to further strategies that will make the data within records more accessible to the public. These partnership agreements spur innovation and collaboration as well as create tangible economic opportunity for private businesses to provide enhanced access to the records and, for some, generate considerable revenue. Over the next two years, NARA will develop different methods of partnering in order to expand the number of organizations and institutions it partners with. For more information on these efforts, see the Digitization section within the Flagship Initiative of this plan.
The National Archives Catalog is the system used by the agency to make available historical electronic records that have been accessioned to the National Archives. The catalog includes paper or analog records that have been digitized and electronic records that have been accessioned directly from federal agencies. NARA also makes available historical data records through the Access to Archival Databases (AAD). To learn more about these records and how to access these records, please visit Archives.gov/research/electronic-records/info-for-researchers.html.
The catalog has an Application Programming Interface (API), which provides access to more than 13 million digital objects. To learn more about the National Archives Catalog API, visit Github.com/usnationalarchives/Catalog-API. For more information about the National Archives Catalog, see Initiative 7 - National Archives Catalog in the Flagship Initiatives section of this plan.
NARA also continues to work to implement open data policies, including the May 9, 2013, Executive Order (EO 13642) and accompanying Open Data Policy - Managing Information as an Asset (M-13-13). The policy requires agencies to open data and information in machine-readable formats in order to fuel innovation in government and the private sector. Our Open Data efforts are an expansion of our work in open government and Digital Government Strategy and support the agency’s transparency efforts and engagement with citizen developers.
Enterprise Data Inventory
NARA’s Enterprise Data Inventory contains the agency’s public and non-public data assets and is available at Archives.gov/data.json. These include datasets in a variety of formats, including XML, CSV, PDF, and HTML. You can also access the entire listing and access previous listings from Archives.gov/data/files/index.html. The public can also access all data assets and metadata from NARA’s Enterprise Data Inventory through Data.gov.
NARA follows the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requirements for quarterly reporting and will work to maintain the Enterprise Data Inventory by expanding the number of data assets included in the inventory, enriching the metadata, and opening additional data assets. NARA staff are encouraged to nominate data assets through an open call on the agency’s Internal Collaboration Network. NARA also works with data asset owners to enrich metadata, including increasing the number of keyword tags and clarifying descriptions of data. NARA will regularly identify new data assets related to information systems through the agency’s Capital Planning and Investment Control (CPIC) process, as business needs are identified.
New Data Asset Releases
Recent additions to NARA’s data assets included updating all of the datasets related to the Office of the Federal Register, including the U.S. Government Manual, Federal Register, and Code of Federal Regulations. New datasets were added for the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations (eCFR), and a new collection for Privacy Act Issuances, including bulk XML for 2011, 2013, and 2015.
Other additions included new bulk data assets from the National Archives Catalog, including Archival Descriptions and Organization Descriptions. Updates were also made to the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) Grants dataset.
One of the datasets NARA made available to the public for the first time in 2016 was “Amending America: Proposed Amendments to the United States Constitution, 1787 to 2014.” This dataset is a compilation of information from several congressional publications and contains more than 11,000 proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution. NARA plans to enhance this dataset over the next two years so that it can become a rich resource for developers and the public. To learn more and access this dataset, visit Archives.gov/open/dataset-amendments.html.
Additionally, NARA released a dataset that provides information about the White House Tapes of the Nixon Administration, 1971–1973. This dataset contains metadata on meetings and telephone calls recorded by the White House taping system. The metadata offers details for all 22,723 conversations, including title, time and date of recording, audiotape, recording device, geographic coordinates, participants, and brief descriptive statements. To learn more and access this dataset, visit Archives.gov/open/nixon/37-wht-dataset-conversationlist.html.
In the next two years, NARA plans to add additional datasets as they become available. New releases will include open educational resources from DocsTeach, our tool for teaching with documents from the National Archives. For more information, please see “Open Educational Resources” in section 5 of this plan and visit DocsTeach.org. We will also add to our Enterprise Data Inventory and on Data.gov, a dataset with information on how individual agencies are managing their email. This dataset, maintained by the Office of the Chief Records Officer, is updated every two weeks as information becomes available on agencies. For more information, please visit Archives.gov/records-mgmt/email-management/agency-email-mgmt.html.
Customer Feedback Process
NARA will continue to consider suggestions from the public on expanding, enriching, and opening data assets. Please send us your ideas and suggestions via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or open an issue on the feedback repository on the US National Archives GitHub account at Github.com/usnationalarchives/feedback/issues. In your feedback, please let us know if there are alternative formats that would make the data easier to use.
Data Publication Process
NARA will determine whether data assets have a valid restriction to release and ensure appropriate data assets are made available publicly. This process will include internal review of data assets by the agency’s Office of General Counsel, which operates NARA’s privacy and FOIA programs, and NARA’s senior leaders. NARA will utilize the access levels of “Public,” “Restricted Public,” and “Non-Public,” as defined by implementation guidance, to categorize all agency data assets.
To learn more about the agency’s implementation of the Open Data Policy, please visit Archives.gov/data/. To learn more about high-value datasets NARA makes available, please visit Archives.gov/open/available-datasets.html. To learn more about NARA’s resources for developers, please visit Aarchives.gov/developer/index.html.
DATA Act and Spending Information
The implementation of the DATA Act provides another opportunity for NARA to deliver on the promise of an open government. NARA is working diligently to increase the availability, accuracy, and usefulness of our procurement and financial assistance spending data. In accordance with the DATA Act, the spending data will be published on the USASpending.gov website making it transparent to the public. Our stakeholders should find the data on this site to be more accessible, searchable, and reliable. Providing accurate and timely data will improve NARA’s accountability to its stakeholders and will foster two-way communication and an open exchange of ideas to improve government spending. NARA is committed to driving openness, cultivating public participation, and strengthen our nation’s democracy.
In accordance with the DATA Act and open government, NARA is working to transform the way we do business by making our federal spending data public and receiving input from our stakeholders to improve our internal management decisions. Award-level data published on the USASpending.gov website will not only make it easier to understand how NARA spends taxpayer dollars but will also serve as a tool for better oversight, data-centric decision-making, and innovation. Improved transparency in federal spending data allows NARA to make better management decisions and increase efficiency through automated reporting.
NARA will strengthen the agency’s use of open source tools and platforms over the next two years. More than five years ago, NARA was one of the first agencies to have a presence and release code on GitHub, the collaborative social coding platform. We started with a set of digitization tools and expanded to include the code for FederalRegister.gov, which is an entirely open source project. Since then, we expanded our use of GitHub to solicit feedback from the public on improvements and data assets they would like to see made available and we published documentation and tools for the National Archives Catalog API. We also launched a repository and pages containing data sets for agencies utilizing the Capstone Approach to email records management, including a list of Capstone Officials by position titles. To learn more about NARA’s GitHub presence and to see all public repositories, please visit Github.com/usnationalarchives.
Recently, NARA released an updated Social Media Strategy on the agency’s GitHub Account to solicit feedback from the public and to enable other potential institutions to “fork” the repository for their own uses. For more information on this effort, please see “Initiative 3 - Social Media Strategy” within the Flagship Initiatives section of this plan.
In the next two years, we will work to redesign Archives.gov and we will implement Drupal, an open source web content management system. As part of these web development efforts, we will seek to develop Drupal models and code base for Archives.gov that can be shared publicly. For more information on these efforts, please see “Initiative 6 - Archives.gov.”
We are also working to develop a World War I mobile application and will work to release the source code for this project. For more information on these efforts, please see “Initiative 10 - Digitization.”
Additionally, NARA will leverage and develop open source tools for use in the Electronic Records Archives (ERA) 2.0 development efforts. Where NARA develops software tools in-house for ERA 2.0, NARA will release those tools to the public for reuse under an open source license with a public domain dedication. For more information on these efforts, please see section 6.4, “Electronic Records Archives.”
Open Educational Resources
In conjunction with the federal initiative to support Open Educational Resources (OER) to provide equitable access to quality education, the National Archives is publishing teaching tools that are clearly identified as OER. Following the recent overhaul of the National Archives' DocsTeach website, all teaching activities on the site are labeled with the CC0 tool—the "no copyright reserved" option in the Creative Commons toolkit. Additionally, activities created by the National Archives education team are included in the Open Node of the Learning Registry, a joint effort of the Department of Education and the Department of Defense that aggregates metadata about learning resources to enable educators, publishers and developers to locate and consume them; these resources are being featured in the U.S. Department of Education’s #GoOpen campaign that encourages states, school districts and educators to use openly licensed educational materials. In addition to labeling DocsTeach activities with CC0, all primary sources on the site—records from the holdings of the National Archives—now include clear copyright information and full citations. We will continue to label all other OERs that we create as such, so that educators and students can use all of our resources in the most informed and responsible manner possible.
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) seeks to proactively release operational records to increase the level of transparency the public has into the working of the agency. NARA has also made available online both the bi-weekly calendars of the Archivist of the United States and agencies’ records control schedules.
Operational records can be found on NARA’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Electronic Reading Room, available at Archives.gov/foia/electronic-reading-room.html. This page is updated to include information routinely available to the public as well as frequently requested under the Freedom of Information Act. For more information about the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act at the National Archives please see Section 4.3 of this plan.
As NARA works to expand proactive disclosures, the agency will consider releases including formal correspondence and letters to other agencies. NARA is always open to suggestions for proactive disclosure.
The Archivist of the United States, David S. Ferriero’s bi-weekly calendar is published to promote transparency and open government at the National Archives. You can expect to find major calendar items by date, including attendees and their affiliations. Bi-weekly calendars are available starting December 27, 2010 through the present on the Blog of the Archivist of the United States at Aotus.blogs.archives.gov/calendar.
With regard to records management and oversight, NARA continues to make available its inspection and oversight reports of other agencies at Archives.gov/records-mgmt/resources/inspections.html. NARA is currently devoting new resources to its inspection program and expects more reports to follow.
Senior Agency Official Reports
For the first time, NARA proactively disclosed all Senior Agency Official for Records Management reports to NARA. NARA began requiring agencies submit this report in 2013. Summaries and analysis of reports were prepared in 2013 and 2014. Beginning with reports covering calendar year 2015 (submitted in calendar year 2016) NARA has posted the agency submissions in full.
Email Management Data
In addition, as agencies adopt plans to manage email electronically by December 31, 2016, NARA is making an agency email management spreadsheet available, which provides status updates on each agency. For agencies using the GRS to manage email under a Capstone approach, NARA is disclosing agency submissions and plans for doing so on GitHub as they are approved.
In 2010, NARA began to make records schedules available online through the Records Control Schedule repository available at Archives.gov/records-mgmt/rcs/. The repository provides access to scanned versions of records schedules or Standard Form 115, Request for Disposition Authority, which have been developed by federal agencies and approved by the Archivist of the United States. The repository includes images of all post-1973, unclassified records schedules. Also included are records schedules that have been closed without further action, or withdrawn, and are not approved by the Archivist of the United States. Newly approved records schedules are published weekly.
NARA Corporate Records Management
In May 2016, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) became the first agency in the government to use the General Records Schedule (GRS) 6.1 (otherwise known as the Capstone GRS) for email retention. NARA will meet the goal to manage all email records in an accessible electronic format by December 31, 2016.
Under the Managing Government Records Directive, all federal agencies are required to manage all their email messages electronically by the end of 2016, doing away with print-to-paper recordkeeping. The Capstone approach developed by NARA offers agencies the option of capturing and retaining emails according to the role or position of employees, not according to the content of specific emails. This approach improves the ease and effectiveness of electronic email management.
At NARA, we have identified the accounts of primarily senior officials within NARA for permanent retention (i.e., the Capstone accounts), with the accounts of all other NARA staff (i.e., non-Capstone accounts) now scheduled as temporary and approved for disposal after a minimum of 7 years. A list of NARA’s Capstone officials is available on the Capstone GRS page at: usnationalarchives.github.io/capstone-grs/.
NARA is also on track to meet the goal to manage all permanent electronic records in an electronic format by December 31, 2019. NARA established a 1.1 Electronic Records Management (ERM) Working Group, including NARA’s Records Officer and Chief Information Officer, to provide senior leadership with a strategy and plan to manage all NARA permanent electronic records. More information on this work can be found on NARA’s Senior Agency Official for Records Management Fiscal Year 2015 Annual Report, available at Archives.gov/records-mgmt/agency/nara-sao-annual-report-2015.pdf.
To learn more about NARA’s records schedule, please visit: Archives.gov/about/records-schedule/. NARA’s permanent historical records are in Record Group 64. To learn more about this record group, please visit Archives.gov/research/guide-fed-records/groups/064.html.
Protecting the privacy of both our customers and the public is of paramount interest to the National Archives. As NARA focuses on accessions of electronic records and digitization and online release of older holdings, NARA has taken on an active role as a member of the newly formed Federal Privacy Council. This Council, established by Executive Order in February 2016, refocused energy on protecting privacy throughout the government. Following on the EO, NARA has been closely monitoring proposed changes to Office of Management and Budget Circular A-130, which sets forth government wide policy on information management and tasks an agency’s Senior Agency Official for Privacy with a variety of responsibilities.
NARA is also committed to ensuring all existing information systems have updated Privacy Impact Assessments within the next three years that take into account updates to OMB guidance. Current PIAs for all NARA information systems and social media applications, along with Privacy Act System of Records Notices, are available on NARA’s recently updated Privacy Program page at Archives.gov/foia/privacy-program/.
NARA’s Privacy Act regulations at 36 C.F.R. Part 1202 outline how individuals can make a Privacy Act request for NARA operational records or request amendment to their records. NARA has no computer matching agreements and does not engage in data mining as defined by the Federal Agency Data Mining Act.
NARA also remains committed to providing updated guidance to archival units throughout the agency on how to screen records for personal privacy information. While the Privacy Act’s restrictions on access and process for amending records do not apply to NARA’s archival holdings, NARA does protect privacy interests of living individuals using FOIA’s Exemption 6 and our General Restrictions to withhold privacy information of living individuals. NARA also takes privacy considerations into account when prioritizing records for digitization. The Office of Research Services plans to begin posting a list of new holdings on Archives.gov each quarter and an annual list of all new holdings that were covered by the Privacy Act before they were accessioned.
NARA’s only required privacy report is the Senior Agency Official for Privacy’s section of our annual Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) report to OMB. This report is not publicly available. Learn more about NARA's Privacy Program at Archives.gov/foia/privacy-program/.
NARA’s policymaking process for creating and revising NARA regulations will continue to incorporate online public engagement through Regulations.gov and RegInfo.gov, which provide information to the public on the status of pending regulations. Additionally, the National Archives has provided a step-by-step narrative about how it develops or changes regulations, available at Archives.gov/about/regulations/process.html.
Participation in Transparency Initiatives
NARA’s participation in transparency initiatives includes the following efforts:
Data.gov - NARA makes available public datasets and web apps on Data.gov and publishes the agency’s Public Data Listing at Archives.gov/data.json. For more information on the agency’s implementation of the Open Data Policy, please see section 4.1 of this plan.
IT Dashboard - NARA uses the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) IT Dashboard to share the latest cost, schedule, and project performance with OMB, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the interested public.
Grants.gov and CFDA.gov - NARA uses Grants.gov to advertise opportunities and collect applications for grants offered through NARA's National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) grants program. NARA also uses CFDA.gov to disseminate general information on the NHPRC grants program as well as non-financial assistance programs administered by NARA.
SAM.gov, USASpending.gov, and FSRS.gov - NARA uses SAM.gov to ensure that potential vendors and grantees are registered in the Central Contractor Registry (CCR), have appropriate representations and certifications, and are eligible to do business with the government (not suspended, debarred, or otherwise excluded) before contract/grant award. NARA reports contract awards and grant awards to the public through USASpending.gov and requires prime contractors to report subcontracts and prime grantees to report subgrants through FSRS.gov.
NARA obtained 2032(c) Certification from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) in July 2015. All new employees receive information about the Whistleblower Protection Act and prohibited personnel practices during their on-boarding. Every October, NARA issues an Agency-wide notice to all employees regarding employees’ rights under the Whistleblower Protection Act. NARA's Fundamentals of Supervision training course for new supervisors includes a module on prohibited personnel practices and whistleblower protection. In addition, NARA has implemented PPD-19 and provided employees with the notice required in the Whistleblower Protection Enhancements Act.
Public Participation Playbook
NARA is leveraging the U.S. Public Participation Playbook to inform the development of several of the Flagship Initiatives of this Open Government Plan. We are using play 2 of the Playbook, “Understanding your participants and stakeholder groups,” in the development of personas representing NARA’s digital audiences and in customer “journey mapping” to incorporate user-centered design. Play 9, “Encouraging community building through responsive outreach,” lies at the foundation of our efforts to develop communities around the citizen archivist crowdsourcing efforts and the History Hub project. Play 11, “Using data to drive decision making,” has helped our efforts to target the most important areas of Archives.gov as we begin a redesign. For more information about our Flagship Initiatives, please see Section 3 of this plan.
NARA was one of the first ten agencies to participate in Analytics.usa.gov through the Digital Analytics Program. The analytics.usa.gov dashboard enables transparency into the web traffic to NARA’s sites. We are also investigating the development of a dashboard that would focus on more granular levels of NARA’s web content. These topic-based dashboards would allow even greater transparency into use of NARA’s websites for NARA staff and external stakeholders.
The Congressional Affairs Office of the National Archives serves as the principal point of contact with Capitol Hill and can assist offices with constituent concerns or questions regarding agency policy and procedures. To learn more about the Congressional Affairs Office please visit Archives.gov/congress.
Strengthening transparency at NARA requires active communication of our progress to the public. We strive to communicate in an efficient and clear way the major milestones and significant actions and business of our agency. We will continue to make announcements in both traditional ways and through social media to encourage two-way communication with the public. While social media is an important and highly interactive way to engage the public, we also realize that more traditional forms of media are sometimes better at reaching members of the public who do not have immediate access to the Internet. A few examples of actions that will be communicated with the public include:
- Significant acquisitions of records
- Releases of previously unavailable material
- Approved agency-specific disposition authorities and the Government-wide General Records Schedules
- Partnerships with outside organizations to increase access to archival material
- Changes in research room procedures
- Changes in visitor/researcher policies
- Temporary closures of records when records are being moved from one facility to another
- Changes to fees charged for some services
- Announcements of conferences, symposiums, exhibits
- Appointments of senior staff
- Availability and awards of grant funds
We use a number of means to communicate with the public, from face-to-face meetings to social media. NARA encourages public feedback through Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, email, blogs, and the mail. Press releases and on-site press briefings publicize NARA actions and programs through the news media. All press releases are also posted on Archives.gov so that they are available directly to the public. Important agency news is announced on the front page of Archives.gov.
We will continue to hold public meetings, such as those held on researcher room changes, to facilitate immediate exchange of ideas. We are also investigating web chat possibilities for communicating with the public. NARA’s Facebook sites reach the public at large, as well as targeted audiences. On our public and research pages, we will make announcements about agency-wide actions and developments. Facebook pages maintained by our archives and Presidential libraries across the nation as well as those relating to the National Historical Publications and Records Commission and the Federal Register will ensure that their specialized audiences are informed of particular developments in their areas.
Through our NARAtions blog (Narations.blogs.archives.gov/), we converse with researchers about issues relating to access to records (both traditional and digital) and the research experience. The Pieces of History blog (Prologue.blogs.archives.gov/) tells the public about our holdings and our history. Through our Records Express blog (http://blogs.archives.gov/records-express/), we provide the latest information regarding Government-wide records management activities. To learn more about all of NARA’s blogs and social media tools, please visit Archives.gov/social-media/.
President Obama signed the Plain Writing Act of 2010 on October 13, 2010. The act requires federal agencies to write “clear Government communication that the public can understand and use.” The Plain Writing Act calls for writing that is clear, concise, well organized, and consistent with other best practices appropriate to the subject or field and intended audience. Such writing avoids jargon, redundancy, ambiguity, and obscurity.
At the National Archives, the Archivist established the Plain Writing Working Group to help NARA staff use plain language in their communications with the public. While this is not a new concept, we know that we need to be clear and understandable so that our customers can use forms and web pages without getting lost and frustrated.
The Plain Writing Team:
- Trains NARA staff through plain language instructor-led workshops and makes online training available through NARA’s Learning Management System
- Provides “on-demand” advice and longer-term editorial services to NARA staff
- Maintains an internal plain writing web page that provides resources and training for NARA staff
- Maintains an external plain writing web page that explains how we are using plain language and asks for public comments about NARA’s communications
- Posts plain language “tips” on our staff blog and archives them for future reference
- Uses customer feedback (such as the National Personnel Records Center Survey of Customer Satisfaction) to improve our written communications
- Maintains the agency's Style Guide, which includes plain writing techniques, guidelines, and examples
Additionally, the Plain Writing team:
- Reviews communications directed to the public
- Reviews documents before they are published in print or on the web
- Reviews existing documents when they are revised
- Meets monthly in teleconferences with plain language contacts in Washington and field offices around the country
To learn more about plain writing at NARA, visit Archives.gov/open/plain-writing/.