A group of 8 smiling people stands in a shipping bay, surrounded by boxes they have prepped for shipping.

Desert Southwest’s Record Archival Project

From March 25 to March 29, 2024, the Desert Southwest Management Services team and WAPA Headquarters Records and Information Management Program staff collaborated to prepare over 150 boxes, weighing more than 4,600 pounds, for shipment to NARA and the FRC. 

The Western Area Power Administration’s paper records must be properly archived by June 30, 2024. As the National Archives and Records Administration and the Federal Records Center gear up to stop accepting paper records after that date, WAPA is making significant strides to meet this pivotal deadline. 

The Information-preservation journey

Over the past two years, Records Management Technician Coleen Hathaway-Rosa and her team have worked diligently to identify and process these paper records. 

“Through the DSW Permanent Records Project, we’re not just fulfilling regulatory requirements; we’re preserving the rich history of WAPA and the American West,” noted Hathaway-Rosa. “By identifying historically valuable records, eliminating non-valuable ones, and offering them to NARA for public access, we ensure that our legacy continues shine on for future generations.” 

The task required assistance from several departments to accomplish the goal in time. “This was a great example of teamwork and building camaraderie with co-workers,” noted team worker and WAPA Program Analyst Denise Kartman. “Some folks got to work side by side that do not normally get to work together. This allowed for an assembly line process where each person labeled boxes, taped them, moved them to the pallets, and shrink-wrapped them, expediting the momentous undertaking more efficiently.” 

“I normally work as an HR Assistant at DSW,” said WAPA Human Resources Assistant Jodi McGuire. “I was asked to help Coleen with this project in January 2024, and I happily took it on. Initially, I didn’t fully understand the scope, but I looked for ways to learn more about WAPA by attending Records Monthly Meetings. One of my previous jobs involved managing student records at an elementary school, so I always enjoyed working in records.” 

Securing a lasting legacy

Chris Magee, who oversaw the WAPA HQ Records and Information team, highlighted the significance of the effort, stating, “This effort has identified numerous historical items such as photographs and newsletters going back to the Great Depression era of American history, documents related to the 1983 Colorado River flood which caused damage into Mexico, and Robert McPhail’s narrative of WAPA’s beginnings.” McPhail served as WAPA’s first administrator and was crucial in establishing WAPA during its separation from the Bureau of Reclamation. 

Every WAPA region, including HQ, is gearing up to send permanent records and certain long-term records to NARA. WAPA aims to store approximately 3,500 feet of records, with the 202 feet from DSW representing the largest initial physical transfer to NARA. As highlighted by Archives.gov, the benefits of this transition encompass enhanced accessibility, security, disaster preparedness, and significant cost reductions. 

Lingo lesson: “Feet of records” is calculated approximately as a standard four-shelf filing cabinet that fits six feet of records. Therefore, approximately 34 filing cabinets of space equals 202 feet, and 584 filing cabinets equals 3500 feet.

According to Magee, the impact extends beyond compliance. Freed-up storage space in the DSW optimizes the facility footprint and ensures the longevity of records in optimal storage conditions. Stored in the National Archives, these records benefit from controlled temperature and humidity, significantly extending their lifespan. 

Good stewards of taxpayer dollars

Studies indicate that employees spend about 20-30% of their workday, or 1.6 to 2.5 hours daily, searching for and gathering information. Transitioning to a digital environment can significantly reduce this time, enhancing the ability to share, collaborate, exchange, and access documents quickly. This shift not only reduces turnaround time but also boosts overall business efficiency. 

Other key benefits of transitioning to digital records are reducing costs. Eliminating physical storage space can lead to significant real estate savings realized quickly. Enhanced information access and collaboration boost employee productivity by reducing time wasted searching through paper records and manual processes. Proactively protecting records from security breaches and disasters is generally more cost-effective than reacting to incidents, as the cost of such events can be substantial depending on the nature and scale of the records involved. 

Magee highlights the significance of archiving these records, stating, “This project represents a true collaboration across programs at WAPA and ensures WAPA’s role in the story of the American West is preserved for future generations.” 

As WAPA bids farewell to paper records, it is not just compliance but also a strategic move to optimize space and preserve history. The transition to digital records aligns with federal-wide requirements, avoiding significant future costs of maintaining physical records. 

The initiative marks a milestone in compliance and in preserving WAPA’s rich history and its role in shaping the American West. With digitalization paving the way for efficient access and storage, WAPA ensures its legacy continues to illuminate the path forward. 

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Last modified on June 12th, 2024