Federal Records Management

Accessioning Guidance and Policy

Federal agencies are required to accession their permanent records into the National Archives. Accessioning is the process of transferring physical and legal custody of permanent records from federal agencies to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in the Washington, DC area. Authority and regulations for this requirement are found in 36 CFR 1235. Additional requirements and guidance include:

  • NARA Bulletin 2012-03, Instructions Concerning the Use of the Electronic Records Archives (ERA) for Scheduling Records and Transferring Permanent Records to the National Archives.

In order to transfer your permanent records to NARA you must complete and submit a Transfer Request in ERA (or an SF 258 if special circumstances merit use; see the ERA Frequently Asked Questions for more details). ERA system requirements are further explained in the Agency ERA User Manual.

Each Transfer Request must correlate to a specific series of records, as identified in an item on a record schedule or crosswalk. Each Transfer Request should be accompanied by a detailed finding aid (folder title list) providing access to the records by National Archives staff and members of the public. Transfer Requests must be submitted to NARA a minimum of 60 days before the desired date of transfer to NARA. NARA will determine whether specified restrictions are acceptable and whether adequate space and equipment are available.

Additional guidance for specific types of records:

Transfer vs. Accession

The terms "transfer" and "accession" are often used interchangeably by both agency and NARA staff, however, there is a distinction.

  • Transfer refers to moving records into the physical custody of a NARA Federal Records Center. The transferring agency retains the legal custody of transferred records until final disposition.
  • Accession refers to when permanent records are sent the National Archives. NARA takes legal custody of the records, and in most cases takes physical custody of the records as well. Accessioned records become the property of NARA.

Types of Accessions

There are two primary types of accessions:

  • Direct Offers - Agency submits a transfer form to NARA to accession permanent records currently stored in agency space. The records are accessioned directly from the agency to NARA.
  • Federal Records Center (FRC) Accessions - NARA generates the transfer form for permanent records stored at a FRC that are targeted for accession that year. The agency submits the transfer form and the records are accessioned during regularly scheduled moves from the FRC.

Accessing your Accessioned Records

If you or your agency staff would like to research your agency records that have been accessioned into NARA, please follow these instructions for research requests for unclassified and classified records.

Agency staff researching their agency's records that have been accessioned into NARA are treated as general researchers. Agency staff generally cannot withdraw records once they have been accessioned by NARA. Please review Procedures for US Federal Agencies to access their already-accessioned Textual Records in College Park, Maryland

Using ERA to Accession Permanent Records

Learn how to accession permanent records to NARA via ERA.

The Electronic Records Archives (ERA) is NARA's system that allows federal agencies to perform critical records management transactions with NARA online. Agency records management staff will use ERA to draft new records retention schedules for records in any format, officially submit those schedules for approval by NARA, request the transfer of permanent records in any format to the National Archives for accessioning or pre-accessioning, and submit electronic records for storage in the ERA electronic records repository. To learn more about this process watch our ERA Youtube video:

NARA has developed several training resources available to federal agencies including:

For information about the Annual Move and ERA view the webinar slides and the Annual Move Tips.

Updated: August 20, 2015