Records Managers

NARA Bulletin 96-6

September 30, 1996

TO: Heads of Federal agencies

SUBJECT: Disposition of Federal records and personal documentary materials

1. Purpose.

This bulletin reminds heads of Federal agencies of their responsibility for ensuring retention of Federal records when personal and nonrecord materials are removed from agency custody.

2. Expiration.

This bulletin will remain in effect until September 30, 1998.

3. Background.

  1. Agencies must establish and implement policies and procedures to create and maintain complete and accurate documentation of their organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, and transactions, and to safeguard records against unauthorized removal or destruction. Agencies also must instruct agency employees, particularly high-level officials, about maintenance of personal documentary materials (44 U.S.C. Chapter 31).

  2. Records include all documentary materials that Federal agencies create or receive in the transaction of public business and that are kept to document the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the Government, or because they contain information of value. Records may be in paper, film, tape, disk, or other physical form. They may be generated manually, electronically, or by other means. Library and museum material kept solely for reference or exhibition purposes, extra copies of documents kept only for convenience of reference, and stocks of publications and of processed documents are not considered "records."

  3. The requirements governing creation, maintenance, and disposition of Federal records do not apply to personal materials that may have been brought to or accumulated at the work site. Personal materials include family and personal correspondence and materials documenting professional activities and outside business or political pursuits.

4. Protection of Federal records.

  1. Federal records may not be destroyed or removed from Government custody without the approval of the Archivist of the United States (44 U.S.C. Chapter 33). If an agency knows of any actual or potential removal, alteration, or destruction of records, it should contact NARA. NARA will assist the agency in working with the Department of Justice to recover alienated records (44 U.S.C. 3106).

  2. Agencies should notify officials and employees that there are criminal penalties for the unlawful removal or destruction of Federal records (18 U.S.C. 2071) and for the unlawful disclosure of national security information (18 U.S.C. 793, 794, and 798). Agencies also should provide guidance concerning the handling of records containing other information exempt under the Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. 552), the Privacy Act (5 U.S.C. 552a), and other information to which access is restricted by law.

5. Identifying and segregating Federal records and personal documentary materials.

Two NARA publications, "Personal Papers of Executive Branch Officials" and "Agency Recordkeeping Requirements" provide guidelines for distinguishing between personal materials and records and recommend practices for maintaining personal materials at the office. Copies of these guides should be available from the agency records officer, or they may be ordered from the NARA Publications Distribution Staff (NECD), Room G-9, Washington, DC 20408 (1-800-234-8861). These guides also are available via the World Wide Web .

6. Disposition.

Both records and personal materials may be in paper, electronic, audiovisual, or other form. The same criteria for distinguishing personal materials from records apply regardless of format. Officials should be advised to consult with the agency records officer before destroying or removing files in their offices.

7. Removal of nonrecord materials from agency custody.

Nonrecord materials may be removed from Government agencies only with the approval of a designated official, such as the records officer or legal counsel. Nonrecord materials containing security-classified information or other restricted information must remain under the control of the agency. If such materials are physically removed, they must be transferred to a facility having an appropriate level security storage area.

8. NARA assistance to agencies.

  1. Advice about the proper disposition of documentary materials should be sought from agency records officers who may consult with legal counsel or personnel familiar with the records. Records officers in the Washington, DC area may request assistance from the NARA Records Appraisal and Disposition Division at 301-837-3570. In the field, questions should be addressed to the director of the nearest Federal records center. Questions may also be addressed to the director of the regional archives that accessions permanent field records. The addresses of the records centers and regional archives are shown in Attachment 3 to NARA Bulletin 96-2 and on the Web.

National Archives and Records Administration (NIR)
Rm. 2100
8601 Adelphi Rd.
College Park, MD 20740-6001

NARA's Office of Presidential Libraries may accept donations of personal papers and nonrecord materials from departing officials. Requests for information should be directed to:

National Archives and Records Administration (NL)
Room 104
700 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20408
(202-501-5700)

JOHN W. CARLIN
Archivist of the United States

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