The Education Department’s contracting arm is investigating new ways to track paper documents even when regulations, security concerns or other technological limitations mean that those documents can’t be digitized, solicitation documents show.

The immediate goal is to track about 2,000 contracting files that are on paper, according to a request for information posted Thursday. The department is aiming to reduce its reliance on paper but expects it will have to maintain hard copies of many files for the next several years and some sensitive files forever, the document said.

The government’s struggle to move away from paper-based systems for information storage and citizen services has received significant attention in the past several weeks, spurred in large part by the uproar over the Veterans Affairs Department’s disability claims backlog. That backlog of paper-based benefit requests has not only forced veterans to wait a year or more for their claims to be evaluated, but it is threatening the structural integrity of a Veterans Benefits Administration office in North Carolina.

The public conversation has focused mainly on digitizing information rather than improving the tracking of paper files.

Education officials are looking into attaching Radio Frequency Identification tags to paper documents, but the department isn’t limiting the products it will consider at this point. RFID tags are essentially complex barcodes that that can transmit information using radio waves from a greater distance than traditional barcodes.

The State Department uses RFID technology in its new generation of e-passports. U.S. Customs and Border Protection uses RFID for trusted traveler programs at land borders.

The Education Department is looking for technology that can tack both a contract file’s location and the identity of the person who last accessed that file, according to the solicitation document.

The document is a request for information, which means the department is only surveying the field of possible vendors and hasn’t committed yet to purchasing any new technology.

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