Funding issues put Archives’ records at risk

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

Digital information held by the National Archives of Australia will “likely” be lost without upgrades to its ICT and digital capabilities, the agency has warned.

In a submission to the current Senate inquiry into the capability of the Australian Public Service, the funding starved National Archives issued a warning about its “legacy” archive management systems and the need to upskill its staff.

In the submission, the agency cited a damning internal review of the National Archives which found it has “struggled” to meet its mandate to secure, preserve and make public the archival resources of the Commonwealth.

The National Archives has warned its ICT and staffing needs investment to fulfil its mandate.

A Functional and Efficiency Review of the National Archives was quietly released in March this year, a year after it was handed to government. It revealed fractured and duplicated information management systems across Commonwealth agencies as well as the National Archives’ own “substantial” challenges.

The final report recommended structurally reforming the National Archives and giving it the resources needed to invest in IT and its staff’s digital capabilities.

Without addressing the challenges, the agency is unlikely to fulfil its role in whole-of-government initiatives, including the Australian government’s Digital Transformation 2025 policies, or achieve its own mandate of archiving information in line with legislation, according to the review.

The National Archives submission to the current inquiry into the capability of the Australian Public Service said the Functional and Efficiency Review highlighted the need to invest further in its digital capabilities.

“The review noted that the National Archives’ archival management capability is a mix of legacy and end-of-life components and does not meet expected requirements to fully manage the collection,” the submission said.

“Digital information is vulnerable and loss will likely occur unless the National Archives has properly designed and maintained technology systems.”

The National Archives’ submission notes the agency did not received any funding as part of the APS transformation and modernisation projects initiated in the 2014 budget “so has not had the uplift of ICT capabilities”.

The agency said building digital capabilities is necessary to keep up with the increasingly digital information it manages but it does not have the required resources.

“Funding constraints have confined the National Archives’ ability to upgrade or replace the systems it needs to do this,” the submission said.

“Resources are needed to invest in contemporary technologies that will meet the volume of digital transfer, preservation, storage, declassification and public access required under the Archives Act 1983.”

The submission also references the National Archives 2019 survey of Commonwealth Agencies’ transition to digital information management.

While 81 per cent of agencies had transitioned to digital information and many were automating the collection and creation of information, the results also indicate an estimated one-third of agencies did not meet the National Archives digital transformation objectives set for the end of 2020.

Only six per cent of Commonwealth agencies were considered high-performing agencies (fully mature across all areas of information and data management), according to the survey results.

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