New Open Government Training Requirements for Public Records Officers
What’s the difference between paper records and electronic records? What is metadata? Are text messages public records? Social media posts? Are memes a public record? If you are a Public Records Officer (PRO) and are wondering about these questions, you may be due for additional training on electronic records and technology.
Earlier this year, the legislature made a number of changes to the Public Records Act (PRA) and records retention laws applicable to electronic records. One key update is that the PRA and records retention training currently required for PROs must now include training on electronic documents and improving technology information systems.
New Training Requirements: Retention, Production and Disclosure, and Technology Information Systems
(5) Training must address particular issues related to the retention, production, and disclosure of electronic documents, including updating and improving technology information services.
These new requirements apply only to PROs and not to elected officials. The new law is otherwise flexible; PROs should look for trainings that best fit their resources and training needs. And, as with the 2014 law, trainings can also be taken in person, online, by video, or through other formats.
What types of training satisfy these new requirements? Here are a few illustrative examples:
- Retention: Topics may include electronic record terminology, how to manage electronic information, texting/social media/website retention and capture software programs, and cloud computing.
- Production and Disclosure: Could be satisfied through trainings addressing production and disclosure of text messages, social media records, and records provided through portals.
- Updating and Improving Technology Information Services: Topics may include the use of portals technology, electronic redaction tools, e-discovery software, and improving search functions to assist public agencies in the management and production of their public record.
New Training Requirement Effective July 23rd, 2017
The timeline in which a PRO must receive the new training varies depending upon the date of hire and the amount of record retention training already completed.
- New PROs hired on or after July 23rd, 2017 need to receive training covering the PRA and records retention laws, including the new training on electronic documents and technology information systems, no later than 90 days after assuming their responsibilities as a PRO.
- PROs hired before July 23, 2017, but who do not yet need refresher training, will need to receive the new training on electronic documents and technology information systems and should do so as soon as possible.
- PROs hired before July 23, 2017 and who are now due for refresher training need to receive training covering the PRA and records retention laws and the new training on electronic documents and technology information systems. They must receive this training no more than four years after they received their initial training that was required under the 2014 law.
Where to Obtain New Training
The Attorney General’s Office, Washington State Archives, and MRSC anticipate providing more information on their websites related to trainings that cover the components of the new law. Currently, the next round of the Washington State Archive’s “Open Government Trainings” will meet both the existing and new training requirements for PROs. Check out the WA State Archives Records Management Training Calendar for details.
In addition, several new PRA-related assistance programs will soon be available to local governments:
- The Attorney General’s Consultation Program will assist with best practices for managing public records requests.
- The Attorney General’s Office provides resources and supplemental guidance on the new training requirement.
- The State Archives’ Competitive Grant Program will be available to improve information technology systems for public records retention, management, and disclosure, as well as for related trainings.
A Few Reminders
- New requirements apply only to PROs and not to local and statewide elected officials; the requirements for elected officials remain the same, although they may still benefit from new training.
- No minimum number of hours required for training.
- Documentation is not required, although it is highly recommended in order to demonstrate compliance. The AGO offers a customizable training certificate on their open government training webpage.
- What happens to officers who fail to receive training? While state law does not specify a penalty, evidence of completed training can mitigate an agency’s exposure to penalties for violations of other sections of the PRA.
If you have questions about these or other local government issues, please use our Ask MRSC form or call us at (206) 625-1300 or (800) 933-6772. If you have comments about this blog post or other topics you would like us to write about, please email MRSC's Legal Blog Editor, Robert Sepler, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.