Department of State - United States of America PDF Association

Typical to the way government works, this Adlib webinar on the SMART program and NARA compliance was efficient, precisely one hour long, and full of good information.

David Compton, IT project manager for US Department of State, had some great stories about how the Department communicates, and how US Department of State modernized its messaging system to achieve NARA compliance.

Duff Johnson did a fantastic job of describing what PDF/A is (despite his slides being slightly out of order) Who knew the differences between PDF/A-1, PDF/A-21 & PDF/A-3 were so slight, yet so important? And we sure heard loud and clear that it's all about the "reliability" of documents.

Compton told us that as the official US government diplomatic arm, the US Department of State processes approximately 15,000 command and control cables per day, totaling 5 million messages per year.

The cables move amongst 280 offices worldwide, between ambassadors, consuls, and the secretary of state. The system dates from World War II, when governments hurriedly got together to decide on a communication standard that...

  • Allowed only the use of numbers 0-9 and capital letters A-Z, with minimal punctuation.
  • Forced users to generate cables in one system, which then had to be re-typed by someone else into the cable system. That presented lots of room for error.
  • Mandated users retain paper copies of every cable. Once archived, paper cables are practically unsearchable, and storing paper poses security risks, particularly in high threat areas.
  • Caused communication confusion when vessels were assigned to new theatres of operation and changed names.

Since all cables are "official traffic" they must be preserved in the official archive – National Archive and Records Administration (NARA) – sometimes for a few months, or 50 years, or in the case of significant documents, in perpetuity. PDF/A is the only format NARA accepts for archiving.

The State Messaging and Archive Retrieval Toolset (SMART) program is the initiative to modernize the department command and control system. Compton said, "It's brought new meaning to the data."

After months of market research, running evaluation copies, and 60-90 day evaluations, the Department of State chose Adlib, because...

  • It's server based
  • It's set and forget
  • Installs and scales easily
  • Runs as a Windows service in real time
  • Messages are all stored on a SQL database
  • Is automatically capable of producing cables
  • Produces PDF/As from over 300 file types

During the webinar Compton stated: "We don't have anywhere near that many file types, however it's nice to know if we add some it'll support it. And it's in real time. We can't be waiting on a cable. Some have short delivery times, depending on who it's going to, their priority, and location."

While cost was a consideration, it wasn't the major determining factor. Adlib's level of responsiveness formed a part of the decision. Compton elaborated:

"They have done everything possible to help us with our mission to get messages to our users in a timely manner. I have many one-on-one relationships with help desk people and various developers. They've been extremely helpful."

The webinar wrapped up with plenty of insight from Johnson as to why PDF/A (no matter what version 1, 2 or 3) is the best format for archiving. He explained how TIFF is not the best format for archiving – while it is a great image format, it's not an electronic document format. Johnson described a list of things TIFF can't include, which is long, and contains bookmarks, annotations, links, searchable text, vector graphics, or a standardized metadata model. PDF/A can include all of those items and more.

Excellent questions – listen to the webinar recording to hear the full details.