How Document Management Can Help The Compliance-Driven Government Agency , Part I

Many times, I have written about how document management helps government agencies with specific missions – public works and asset management, courts and justice, health and human services, and so forth. But there are a few themes that cut across most agencies. One of the most important of these is compliance.

So how do you know if your agency is compliance-driven? Consider the following list and then ask yourself if these are drivers in your agency:

  • You receive funding from county, city, state, federal or non-profit entities. When your agency accepts funding from others, it normally comes with a set of requirements that you must follow More importantly, you must diligently document your adherence to those requirements.
  • You decide eligibility for a program. Delivering services to your constituents often starts with an application, followed by supporting documents, annual check-ins for continued eligibility and the ubiquitous file checklist. Losing track of these documents starts the process all over again, and worse, it erodes your customer service with delays and requests for resubmitting documents.
  • You are audited by outside agencies or funders. You endure annual or more frequent reviews of your files, your processes and whether you adhere to your stated procedures for making decisions.
  • You are judged by the completeness of your documentation. Those annual audits include someone reconstructing your decisions and processes by what they see in the files and they have their own file checklist.
  • You hold the permanent or historical records for your community. Records management is often a combination of where documents are during a process and, just as important, if not more so, who is charged with managing them, now and in the future, and what that responsibility looks like.

I worked for compliance-driven agencies during my entire government career. In many ways, my agencies were frozen in time. The programs we ran were developed before the penetration of computers and were set up to manage hundreds of millions of dollars before these dollars were tracked in accounting and data systems. Because of where our funding came from, because of judging eligibility and because of audits by those funders, we pursued, managed and created an impressive amount of paper.

But what happens now, in an era of affordable document management technology and reduced staff? The compliance-driven agency faces some dilemmas!

First, we do not have enough staff to sustain paper-driven systems – the filing, the photocopying, the archiving and even the security, if we have sensitive information.

Second, with reduced staff, we can no longer tolerate the delays in retrieving documents, and this is particularly the case when a decision is questioned during an audit or increasingly frequent public records requests. Now those files, which you are struggling to maintain, are what proves that you did or did not follow regulations, rule or law. If documents are not filed in a timely fashion or are lost due to the pressures of caseload and reduced staff, you could lose funding.

So, the paper that signaled our compliance has created a system we can’t maintain due to funding cuts. And we can’t risk being out of compliance or we will lose even the reduced funding we are receiving. Finally, as we shed staff, many of them with long experience running compliant programs, we lose some of our institutional expertise for compliance, again leaving us with the files that we struggle to maintain as our proof of compliance.

Sounds like a no-win situation. But really, document management can help! Next time, I will highlight key features of document management and ECM and then connect them to the critical challenges of compliance-driven government agencies and organizations.

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