Being a records officer for a government agency is a tough job, especially for a large entity like the Utah State Board of Education (USBE). This month, we’re highlighting Ben Rasmussen, USBE’s appointed records officer and Director of Law and Professional Practices, for all the hard work he does. USBE is in the middle of a big project to clean up their records and sort out their retention schedules. We chatted with Ben to learn more about what he does as a records officer.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Aside from the fact that, like every young boy, I dreamed of being a government records officer since I was little, I would say my favorite part of being a records officer is to help my colleagues bring a little bit of order to the agency. I work in an agency with over 200 employees and there have been a lot of records that go way back. When I first came on I found microfiche sitting around with old meeting minutes. It’s been great to help my colleagues understand the processes for retention and destruction of records so that we can empty the file cabinets, where appropriate, and minimize risks to the agency.
Tell us about a records management project you’ve worked on?
At USBE, records officer is only one of the hats I wear. I also help draft administrative rules and manage the Utah Professional Practices Advisory Commission and State Council on Military Children. Accordingly, it’s been important to have a great team that works together on advancing the agency’s records management needs.
We’ve gotten great contributions from the staff of our Student Data Privacy section who have helped to create a framework for our staff to follow when classifying records. They’ve worked with our agency team, as well as school district and charter school stakeholders to create our Records Appraisal and Management Program and videos to facilitate understanding for our agency and schools. Each of our sections at USBE also has an assigned data steward that we meet with periodically to make sure that questions on records management are answered and the agency is able to classify and preserve records. This has been a big undertaking for our large agency, but I’m part of a great team that gets the work done and helps our school districts and charter schools as well.
What have you found most challenging about being a records officer?
Probably the biggest challenge from my perspective is keeping up with the laws involved in records management (GRAMA). As an agency, we receive a fair number of records requests. There is frequent discussion as to how the records should be classified and whether one of the myriad exceptions applies that would make the records private, controlled, or protected. Beyond that, USBE is in a position where it must deal with a number of student records. Records governed by FERPA create a whole other set of issues and legal questions to stay on top of to ensure that the agency is in compliance with federal law. I’m an attorney, so my legal training is a big help in navigating the GRAMA laws, but there’s still a lot to process.
What advice would you have for new records officers?
My advice would be to remember that GRAMA is all about transparency. This applies first and foremost in helping the public understand what records are available and helping them navigate their access to an agency’s records, but it also applies within the agency. I get a lot of questions from elected officials, as well as my fellow staff members with how the GRAMA laws will be applied. I’m constantly reminded that it’s important to loop these individuals in when a GRAMA request is aimed at communications of our records created by specific staff members and elected officials. Not only can these individuals help a records officer identify responsive records, but the process will work a lot smoother when these individuals are well informed.