In the summer of 1975, a 19-year-old Jason R. Baron arrived on Capitol Hill with a self-diagnosed case of Potomac Fever. He’s still got it.
For more than 33 years, Baron has served in the public sector at the intersection of information governance and federal government, most prominently as director of litigation at the National Archives and Records Administration. Last month he made the jump to the private sector, signing on with Drinker Biddle & Reath’s Information Governance and eDiscovery group.
“I am more excited to practice law now than ever before,” said Baron, who is looking forward to seeing what he can accomplish on a wider platform in the private sector.
The Massachusetts native graduated from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., in 1977. Instead of going into higher education like his late father, Baron pursued his dream of practicing law.
He was drawn to Washington during an internship in college with the Wednesday Group, “a liberal Republican group,” as he described it. After college, he returned to Washington for two paid summer internships, the first of which was as a clerk typist.
In 1980, Baron graduated from the Boston University School of Law and shortly thereafter moved to Baltimore. He spent the next eight years in Charm City, serving in various attorney roles within the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the General Counsel.
He got back to Washington in 1988 as a trial attorney at the Justice Department’s Civil Division, eventually making his way up to senior counsel.
His involvement with the preservation of White House emails made him popular in digital archivist circles.
During the first half of 2000, Baron spent time as a visiting scholar at the University of British Columbia’s School of Library, Archival and Information Studies before returning to the District for his most recent position with NARA.
As the director of litigation, Baron oversaw all litigation-related activities that involved presidential and federal records. He represented NARA at the Sedona Conference, a nonprofit law institute, and was a founding co-coordinator of the TREC Legal Track, an international research project that evaluates search protocols utilized in e-discovery, the retrieval, analysis and sharing of digital data for lawsuits and other legal needs.
Additionally, he worked on preparing agencies for the presidential mandate for managing all government records digitally by 2019.
“The National Archives has a giant challenge. It takes in all the permanent records of the United States. We are looking at a billion emails by the end of the Obama administration,” Baron explained.
His position has enabled him to teach others best practices and the future of digital information governance. In the last decade, Baron has conducted more than 300 forums in the United States and Canada. He helped found the international DESI Workshop series, an e-discovery forum that brings together academics and lawyers.
Although Baron’s work might not mirror that of a typical public figure, his years of working in a less popular capacity have earned him a plethora of awards from the Justice Department, the archivist of the United States and NARA. Additionally, he was a recipient of Federal Computer Week’s 2008 Federal 100 Award, the Emmett Leahy Award for excellence in records and information management, and by his law school alma mater with the DC Alumni Public Service Award.
“While you may never get to have a mansion if you stay in the government, there are other things in life that are important, and one of them is just working for the common good,” Baron said.
As he settles into his new role with Drinker Biddle & Reath, his role will “fill a niche” as a consultant between government and private companies, all working to create an online space for White House and federal agency records.
He continues to serve as adjunct faculty member at the University of Maryland’s College of Information Studies, where he teaches graduate and doctoral courses.
An avid hiker, he still remembers fondly a long-ago trip to Machu Picchu in Peru as extremely centering.
“Coming to Machu Picchu was like a movie set. I sat there for hours. It clears the mind and is just a wonderful experience to be in such an exotic spot on the Earth,” Baron said, noting he always seizes the opportunity to take an extra day for hiking when time allows. While in Washington, there’s one place that still centers him amid the hustle and bustle of the city.
“When I would leave NARA and DOJ and walk out to Pennsylvania Avenue at night and turn to the East and look at the Capitol, there’s still a clutch that goes through me 30 years later,” he said. “I still feel that this is sort of the center of the universe. I really believe that one can make a difference in Washington if you work really hard.”
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