DHS, FBI stepping up digitization of records

Chuck Brooks

The digitization of government records has wide support both from consumers seeking better customer service and from the Obama administration, including recent efforts to move toward digitized records like the OpenGov initiative and the Citizen Archivist Project. Digitizing records reduces costs by speeding up document capture, recognition, and retrieval. It also ensures file integrity and better access to data for the citizens the government serves.

The November 28, 2011 White House Presidential Memorandum on Managing Government Records provides a succinct case for digitization: "When records are well managed, agencies can use them to assess the impact of programs, to reduce redundant efforts, to save money, and to share knowledge within and across their organizations. In these ways, proper records management is the backbone of open Government. Decades of technological advances have transformed agency operations, creating challenges and opportunities for agency records management. Greater reliance on electronic communication and systems has radically increased the volume and diversity of information that agencies must manage. With proper planning, technology can make these records less burdensome to manage and easier to use and share."

The technological advances mentioned by the White House are significant. Automated Optical capabilities are changing how documents are being managed. A new era of advanced materials science combined with skilled engineering have led to incredible optical character recognition (OCR) capabilities in document scanners. New algorithms interact with a library of form recognition protocols, machine print, hand print and the integration of contextual logic databases for automated validation.

Government agencies, including civilian security-oriented organizations such the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security, are some of the first to go digital. Last week, the FBI‘s Criminal Justice Information Services division completed the digital conversion of an estimated 30 million records and 83 million fingerprint cards as part of a two-decade effort to modernize the division’s biometric file system. This in an affirmation of the priority for accessible, current, organized, and quality controlled records for law enforcement and homeland security uses to ultimately better service and protect citizens.

Like the FBI, the DHS is also making the consolidation and digitization of records a priority. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service has several ongoing projects for converting records to digital form. These projects involve cloning large volumes of immigration data and digitizing the images for migration to the government’s Enterprise Document Management System. Rendell Jones, the first Associate Director for the Management Directorate at USCIS, is overseeing digital technology transformation there.

A priority for Rendell Jones and the USCIS is the Transformation Program. Initiated in 2012, the USCIS Transformation Program seeks to "migrate to a modern digital processing capability, while enhancing National Security, and improving efficiencies and effectiveness."

In his leadership role, he is also responsible for the office of the chief financial officer, information technology, human capital and training, contracting, administration, intake and document production, equal opportunity and inclusion and security. That encompassing role includes managing a great amount of records. Most importantly, Jones actively engages internal and external stakeholders for the directorate, which is critical for success in implementing best practices and technological innovation in digital transformation programs.

When the Transformation Program is completed, it will serve as a model for other parts of DHS and the federal government on how to convert complex records into digital form. Greater access and efficiency, including processing of immigration and criminal records, will keep us safer. Digital records will also save costs and make serving the constituents a better experience.

SOURCE: http://archive.federaltimes.com/article/20140827/BLG04/308270010/DHS-FBI-stepping-up-digitization-records