Records Managers

Records Schedule Review Process

National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)

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Introduction

This document describes how NARA manages the review of records disposition requests from Federal agencies. In accordance with Federal law (44 U.S.C. Chapter 33), Federal agencies may not destroy or otherwise dispose of records without specific authorization from the Archivist of the United States. NARA accomplishes the review of disposition requests in four basic stages, described here under the headings Receive, Review, Federal Register, and Resolve.

Process

1. Receive

Federal agencies submit schedules for all series of records that are not covered by the General Records Schedules to NARA's Records Management Services Division, the NARA unit responsible for appraisal and schedule review. Schedules are submitted via the Electronic Records Archives (ERA). On receipt, a schedule is assigned to an appraiser within the Division, who conducts an initial review to determine if the schedule should be registered or returned to the agency. The schedule may be returned if it does not meet standards that are specified in 36 CFR 1225 and other formal NARA guidance.

Schedules must include:

  • Clear descriptions of the records at the series or system level

  • Clear and readily applicable cut-off and disposition instructions

  • Adequate justifications of deviations from the General Records Schedules

  • Citations to older schedule items if a proposed schedule has disposition instructions superseding or replacing older items

  • Justifications for changes in the retention period or dispositions for series already scheduled

  • Instructions for series that will be retired to a records storage facility prior to final disposition

  • For those series proposed for permanent retention by NARA, the inclusive dates, the arrangement, the total volume, and the annual accumulation or growth

  • Certification as to whether General Accounting Office (GAO) concurrence is not required, has been obtained, or has been requested

  • For electronic systems, descriptions and disposition instructions for inputs, outputs, the masterfile, and system documentation

Schedules that conform to NARA standards or need only minor modifications (inclusion of the phone number of a point of contact, etc.), are registered, and data about the schedule is entered into an automated tracking system.

Schedules with major deficiencies (failure to justify proposed GRS deviations, etc.) are returned to the agency, with a letter explaining why they could not be registered and the revisions or corrections that are needed.

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2. Review

ACNR appraisers review schedules to determine if the proposed disposition instructions are appropriate. Schedules are reviewed to ensure that records proposed for permanent retention warrant preservation in the National Archives and that files proposed for disposal lack historical or other research value and, therefore, may eventually be destroyed. NARA also reviews the retention periods proposed for temporary records to make sure they are retained long enough to protect the legal rights of the Government and private parties.

Approximately 25%-30% of all schedule items pertain to records that (a) have never been scheduled before but clearly are temporary or (b) merely increase or lower the retention period of series that already are approved for disposal. Review of schedules that fall into this category is normally undertaken very soon after registration and is typically completed quickly.

The review of schedules covering records with legal rights implications or potentially permanent series is more time consuming than the review of simple schedules. The time required for the review of such schedules depends on such factors as the number of items in the schedule and their complexity, how many separate agency offices must be contacted or visited, how quickly agency records officers can arrange for site visits and other needed agency contacts, and the appraiser's workload.

After reviewing schedules and completing any necessary records inspections, appraisers prepare analytical reports that describe the records and their informational or evidential value, the organizational context within which they are generated, and whether the agency-proposed disposition instructions are appropriate. These reports, and the schedules to which they relate, may be sent for review and comment to other NARA offices with specialized knowledge of the records.

3. Federal Register

NARA is required by law to publish notice in the Federal Register of schedules proposing (a) the disposal of unscheduled series or (b) a reduction in the retention period of a series already approved for disposal. These notices provide the public with the opportunity to request copies of pending schedules from NARA and provide comments. Input from the public contributes to better appraisal decisions by bringing a non-governmental perspective to bear. Federal Register notices are available at this web site: www.federalregister.gov.

Notices of pending schedules are published at least monthly. For each schedule, notices include such information as the name of the submitting agency, the total number of items in the schedule, the number of items proposed for disposal, and a brief description of the records. Members of the public have 30 days from date of publication to request copies of schedules and appraisal reports. Requesters have 30 days from the date the schedule is sent to them in which to submit comments. Schedules and appraisal reports are sent immediately to requesters unless the schedule is still undergoing review and, therefore, may be modified. Schedules that cannot be provided immediately are sent to requesters when review is completed.

For records schedules of unusual public interest, NARA may pursue additional strategies to elicit public comment, such as posting the entire schedule and appraisal report on the NARA web site (www.archives.gov), sending notices about the schedule to pertinent listservs, and soliciting comment through letters to interest groups, professional organizations, or other entities.

The Federal Register stage is generally the lengthiest portion of the schedule review process, requiring almost four months for completion.

4. Resolve

In most cases, NARA concurs in the disposition instructions agencies propose. However, issues may arise during the appraisal process that require revisions to a schedule prior to approval. These can stem from the appraiser's review of the schedule and/or the records they include, from input received from other NARA units which reviewed the schedule and appraisal report, or from the public.

Most often, revisions to schedules that stem from the Review and Federal Register steps outlined above involve changes in the ultimate disposition of a series (from temporary to permanent or vice-versa) or modifications in the retention period for a temporary series (either a reduction or an increase). Adding schedule items for additional records discovered during visits to the agency or modifying series descriptions to reflect the actual content of the file or system are other changes that may be needed. All modifications to the schedule are implemented by working cooperatively with the agency and obtaining its concurrence.

After NARA and the agency resolve any issues arising from NARA review and Federal Register publication, the schedule is ready for approval. NARA's Chief Records Officer for the U.S. Government approves schedules proposing changes to retention periods of records previously approved for disposal. The Archivist of the United States approves all other schedules. After the schedule is approved, NARA maintains the original and posts a copy to the web.

From receipt to final approval, it generally takes NARA approximately six months or less to process simple schedules that pertain to records that are clearly temporary and do not have legal rights implications, with almost four months of this time period taken by the public comment process. It may take up to one year for NARA to process large and complex schedules requiring closer review or eliciting critical public comments.

Conclusion

The purpose of the NARA schedule review process is to ensure that all records disposition requests from Federal agencies are reviewed carefully and processed in a timely fashion, with opportunities for input provided to NARA records specialists, external professional organizations and interest groups, and the public. This process is part of NARA's statutory responsibility to ensure, for the Citizen and the Public Servant, for the President and the Congress and the Courts, ready access to essential evidence.

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Updated 4/14/14

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