Federal Records Management

NARA Bulletin 96-03

ATTENTION! This page has been superseded. The information listed below is no longer accurate. For NARA's current guidance please visit  http://www.archives.gov/records-mgmt/bulletins.  Please note that this page is available only as a technical and historical reference.

February 12, 1996

TO: Heads of Federal agencies

SUBJECT: Preservation of facsimile transmissions that are Federal records

1. Purpose.
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.

3. Background.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 file.
  4. 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.

4. Interpretation.
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.

  1. All thermal paper facsimiles that are Federal records should be copied on plain paper at the time of receipt.
    1. (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. (2) Materials that meet the criteria specified in paragraph 4 are Federal records and should be treated accordingly.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 filing procedures.
  4. 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."
  5. 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)
Room 2200
8601 Adelphi Rd.B College Park, MD 20740-6001

Archivist of the United States