FineReader blog

Going paperless while meeting NARA compliance

Business trends
Managing government records

A global trend towards electronic government can improve the performance of delivering services in the public sector. In addition, e-government practices have brought to light new issues with records management that have implications in further areas: one of the unavoidable effects of this trend has been the near-exponential increase both in the volume of electronic records and in the number of record-keeping formats in the years to come. Records and information management functions – such as finding, organizing, using, sharing, correctly disposing of, and preserving records of all kinds – are extremely important for the effective operation of the U.S. federal government.

According to its Strategic Plan 2018-2022, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) will stop accepting transfers of permanent or temporary records in analog formats, to the fullest extent possible, by December 31, 2022. Instead, it will only accept records in electronic format (regardless of whether the records were created digitally) with the appropriate metadata. Afterwards, the federal government will require its agencies to digitize permanent records in analog formats before transferring them to NARA. A key role of NARA is to preserve the cultural history of the republic, as well as driving openness, cultivating public participation, and strengthening the nation’s democracy through public access to high-value government records.

As such, the practice of keeping paper records is indeed coming to an end. But why do most people still love paper? It’s affordable, reliable, genuine, and easy to use. We trust paper as a hard copy to sign a contract, inform of ownership, keep evidence of delivery, etc. But actually, a PDF is digital paper. It was designed to play the role of paper in a digital world.

In addition to the benefits of paper, however, PDFs can also do much more due to their electronic creation:

  • Universal format: You can view PDFs on any device.
  • Trusted security: Even the legal industry relies on PDF as their preferred format. According to, an electronic document must be created in a format that cannot be altered without leaving an electronic footprint, in order to be admissible in a court of law. PDFs fulfill this requirement.
  • Small file size: You can convert almost any file to a PDF without losing quality. In addition, you can merge several files into one PDF.
  • Speed and ease of creation: There are a variety of ways to create PDFs, even directly in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. With ABBYY FineReader you can easily convert them back as needed.
  • Viewing is free: Anyone can view and read PDFs.
  • Searchable: Your searchable PDFs contain a text layer that allows users to search for the information within documents.
  • And much more: Like mobile access or password protection.

PDF is NARA’s preferred format for the transfer of certain permanent electronic records: for instance, scanned text, digital posters, presentations, and textual data. This not only includes the PDF format, but also PDF/A, which is the ISO-standardized version of a PDF designed for use in archiving and long-term digital preservation. This version differs from PDF by prohibiting features unsuitable for long-term archiving, such as encryption and linking fonts. All information – such as content, colors, and fonts – must be embedded in the file.

If you’re responsible for implementing or maintaining policies for records management within a federal agency and need a technology tool to convert your existing and incoming documents, the following requirements are of the utmost importance:

  • Automated processes: High-volume document processing allows for excellent scalability while automatically processing large batches of files quickly and without human interaction.
  • High-quality optical character recognition (OCR): This helps create identical or nearly identical text layers from scans, allowing for huge amounts of documents to be searched through effectively.
  • Smart text-layer detection: If a file was created digitally, it already has ideal text in most cases. As such, there is no need for this in OCR, because it could even decrease the text quality. The technology should in fact detect such documents and avoid applying OCR to them, which will also reduce the overall server load.
  • Compressing PDFs: Applying this to your PDF/A documents will not only reduce storage size and minimize costs, but it will also improve document accessibility and distribution, since smaller files are easier to open and share.
  • Other benefits: Take advantage of more useful tools like automated document separation, support for PDF signatures, finding duplicates, scanning images with pre-processing settings to improve digitization, verifying OCR results, indexing documents, and recognizing a number of OCR languages (Spanish, French, Cyrillic, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, even old European languages).

Don’t forget that such a tool can not only help meet NARA compliance requirements, but also improve operational efficiency and reduce costs for your organization.

ABBYY FineReader Server is a reliable solution to comply with government and corporate regulations by automatically converting large volumes of paper and digital documents into accessible and searchable PDF/A files.

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