As Archives New Zealand faces absorption into the Department of Internal Affairs as part of the streamlining of government agency structures, it continues to make its contribution to the developing all-of-government shape of information handling.
Archives and Internal Affairs Minister Nathan Guy formally launched digital record keeping and disposal standards on November 24, and Archives New Zealand hopes the standards will be adopted across central and local government agencies, improving the ability to find and reveal public-sector information.
Guy said they will assist evidence-based policy making and the growing push to openness of government data, while improving the accountability of ministers and staff to the public. The standards also have a role in preserving New Zealand’s culture and heritage.
However, adoption of the record keeping standard is discretionary for the present. The disposal standard is mandatory for all public-sector organisations, central and local, except for state and integrated schools.
The two sets of requirements and guidelines are adaptations of international standards in whose development Archives NZ played a major role. New Zealand is the first country to formally adopt the standards, Guy believes.
The standards cover the creation, retention and disposal of data, as well as the metadata that enables the data to be easily found. They also guide the business practices surrounding the creation, maintenance and disposal of records.
As well as assisting everyday record management, the standards can help guide the development or competitive selection of record-handling software; hence they are also of relevance to software developers and vendors.
In the course of the launch the Minister tried to allay concerns the importance of Archives is being diminished, by its absorption into the much larger and disparate range of Internal Affairs functions. Two former chief archivists, Ray Grover and Kathryn Patterson, writing the previous day in Wellington’s Dominion Post, condemned the move as a downgrade of the agency’s status and a compromise of its independence. With the passage of the facilitating legislation “preservation of the public record in New Zealand will have more in common with Third World states than Western-style democracies”, they claim.
Under the new structure, the chief archivist will be reduced to the level of a “third-tier manager”, say opponents of the move. Guy responded by emphasising that the chief archivist “will continue to have access [to] and regular meetings with the minister, there will still be a separate Budget vote and the Archives Council remains to provide advice to the minister”.
Guy compared NZ Archives’ supposed lower-ranking role to that of Internal Affairs’ passport operation. This “employs 205 people around the world and generates third-party revenues of more than $55 million dollars,” he said.
“It is critically important to New Zealand’s security, international access and success. It is bigger than some stand-alone government departments and is led by a supposed ‘third tier’ manager.”
The Chief Archivist in the restructured department “will no longer have the duties of being a chief executive,” Guy said.
“This will free him or her to focus on the core statutory duties of the role.”
The relevant legislation, the Public Sector Management Bill, was reported back from the Education and Science Select Committee two weeks ago and is expected to be passed by the end of the year. The restructured operation is scheduled to start on February 1.
The ICT aspects of the merger are on track for that date, Government Technology Services head Stephen Crombie told Computerworld at the launch.