NARA Bulletin 96-03
February 12, 1996
TO: Heads of Federal agencies
SUBJECT: Preservation of facsimile transmissions that are Federal records
This bulletin provides guidance on the handling of facsimile (fax) transmissions that meet the legal definition of Federal records (44 U.S.C. 3301).
2. Expiration date.
This bulletin will remain in effect until January 31, 1998.
- Even with the proliferation of other communications tools such as
electronic mail, facsimile (fax) transmissions continue to be a common means
of communication within agencies, between agencies, and between Government
agencies and the private sector.
- Incoming copies on some fax machines are printed on "thermal paper," as
opposed to plain paper. The images on thermal paper are extremely unstable and
may begin to deteriorate in as few as six months. Such thermal papers are
sensitive to heat and light, will react with chemicals found in ordinary
office environments (including markers, cosmetics, and some types of plastic
folders), and may contain impermanent dyes. As a result, the text is likely to
fade and become illegible or the whole paper surface may darken, making the
image indistinguishable. Thermal paper can be recognized by its smooth sheen
and tendency to curl, making it difficult to handle.
- Most current models of fax machines produce copies on plain paper by
xerographic means, which produces a much more stable image than a copy made on
thermal paper. Plain paper is easier than thermal paper to mark, copy, and
- Some Federal personnel send and receive fax transmissions via personal computer fax/modems and software. These transmissions are subject to the same records management controls as those transmitted via fax machine.
Facsimile transmissions have the same potential to be Federal records as any other documentary materials received in Federal offices. They are Federal records when
(1) they are received in connection with agency business and
(2) they are appropriate for preservation as evidence of agency organization and activities or because of the value of the information they contain.
(Refer to 36 CFR 1222 for additional guidance in identifying Federal records.)
5. Agency Action.
- All thermal paper facsimiles that are Federal records should be copied on
plain paper at the time of receipt.
- (1) Materials provided for information only, including advance copies on which no administrative action is taken, are nonrecord and may be destroyed when no longer needed.
- (2) Materials that meet the criteria specified in paragraph 4 are Federal records and should be treated accordingly.
- When a fax machine is used to send or receive documents, plain paper
copies of documents that are Federal records should be filed in accordance
with the agency's standard filing procedures.
- When a computer is used to send or receive facsimile documents, copies of
those that are Federal records may either be maintained in an electronic
recordkeeping system that meets the requirements of 36 CFR 1234.22, or a paper
copy may be printed and incorporated into an agency file according to standard
- Agencies should consider including on fax message leaders, such as cover
sheets, headers, and boxed notes, advice on replacing thermal paper facsimiles
that are records with a plain paper copy. A sample advisory is: "WARNING: Some
fax machines produce copies on thermal paper. The image produced is highly
unstable and will deteriorate significantly within a few years. It should be
copied on plain paper prior to filing as a record."
- Agency instructions based on the guidance in this bulletin should be distributed to all offices that send or receive fax transmissions.
6. For Further Information.
Questions concerning this policy or requests for further assistance may be directed to:
Office of Records Administration
Agency Services Division (NIA)
8601 Adelphi Rd.B College Park, MD 20740-6001
JOHN W. CARLIN
Archivist of the United States