Federal Records Management

NARA Bulletin 98-02

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 This page has been superseded.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  Please note that this page is available only as a technical and historical reference.

[Note: The expiration date for NARA Bulletin No. 98-02 was extended until September 30, 1999, by NARA Bulletin 99-01.]

March 10, 1998

NARA Bulletin No. 98-02

TO: Heads of Federal Agencies

SUBJECT: Disposition of electronic records

1. Purpose. This bulletin reminds agencies of their responsibilities for ensuring adequate documentation of agency activities and provides guidance to Federal agencies concerning new procedures for submitting records schedules covering new or revised series.

2. Expiration. This bulletin will remain in effect until October 31, 1998, unless superseded earlier. Agencies will be notified by NARA bulletin of new procedures for authorizing disposition of electronic records resulting from the recommendations of the Electronic Records Work Group to the Archivist of the United States.

3. Background.

a. Agency heads are required by 44 U.S.C. 3101 to "make and preserve records containing adequate and proper documentation of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, and essential transactions of the agency. . . ." NARA regulations at 36 CFR Part 1222 specify agency recordkeeping responsibilities, including standards for recordkeeping requirements. NARA regulations at 36 CFR Part 1234 Subpart C specify standards for managing the creation, use, preservation, and disposition of electronic records.

b. Last October 22, 1997, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued an order declaring NARA's General Records Schedule (GRS) 20 "null and void." The court's order was in response to a suit filed by Public Citizen and other organizations against the Archivist of the United States, the Executive Office of the President (EOP), the Office of Administration, and the United States Trade Representative. The Government has filed an appeal of the court's declaratory judgment. The Department of Justice has advised that pending the appeal, government agencies may continue to rely upon GRS 20.

c. Although the Government has appealed the court's decision, fundamentally NARA believes that the Government needs to develop a better approach to the disposition of records created on word processing and electronic mail applications. NARA's Strategic Plan includes several strategies for improving the management of electronic records. As part of one of these strategies, NARA is re-evaluating how it approves the disposition of electronic records. To focus NARA's efforts on changing GRS 20, NARA has formed an interagency Electronic Records Work Group, consisting of select NARA staff, Federal records officers, and information management specialists, with oversight by the Deputy Archivist of the United States. The Work Group is to have recommendations to the Archivist by July 1 and an implementation plan by September 30, 1998.

4. Agency recordkeeping requirements. Agencies are reminded that NARA regulations provide guidance and requirements on recordkeeping policies and practices to assist agencies in ensuring adequate and proper documentation of agency activities. To support operational needs, protect rights, and allow accountability, agencies must create and preserve complete records in designated recordkeeping systems.

a. To ensure complete documentation, records, including those generated electronically with office automation applications, should include proper identification of originators and recipients, appropriate dates, and any other information needed by the agency to meet its business needs. Records generated with an office automation application must be copied to a recordkeeping system where they will be maintained as long as they are needed by the Government.

b. Proper recordkeeping systems organize or index records to provide context and to allow appropriate staff access to all records relating to a specific transaction, project, study, or subject. Recordkeeping systems may be in paper, micrographic, or electronic format.

5. Impact on scheduling. While NARA is reconsidering its policies on the disposition of electronic records generated with office automation applications and pending the recommendations of the Work Group, NARA advises agencies to follow the instructions provided below.

a. Subsequent to the issuance of this bulletin, new and revised items on SF 115s, Request for Records Disposition Authority, submitted for NARA approval must include provision for the disposition of both the copy of a record that resides on electronic mail or other office automation application, and the copy maintained in the recordkeeping system:

(1) When new and revised items include records generated on office automation applications, the description on the proposed schedule should indicate that records were generated using office automation, AND

(2) For each such item the proposed schedule should provide separate disposition instructions for the recordkeeping system described in the schedule and for the electronic copy created by the office automation application.

b. Agencies should monitor the Electronic Records Work Group Internet Web and submit comments and suggestions to the Work Group on Work Group documents posted for comment.

6. NARA action. NARA will provide guidance and assistance to agency records officers concerning recordkeeping requirements and new scheduling procedures. NARA will advise agencies promptly of any Court action affecting maintenance and disposition of electronic records.

7. For further information. Please direct questions or comments to Michael Miller, Modern Records Programs, National Archives and Records Administration, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740-6001 (telephone: 301-837-3570, ext. 229) or by electronic mail to grs20@nara.gov.

Archivist of the United States