Federal Records Management

NARA Bulletin 2009-03

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 This page has been superseded.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 Please note that this page is available only as a technical and historical reference.

July 30, 2009

TO: Heads of Federal agencies

SUBJECT: Pre-accessioning permanent electronic records

EXPIRATION DATE: Expires when revoked or superseded

  1. What is the purpose of this bulletin?

    This bulletin defines what the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) means when discussing pre-accessioning of electronic records with archival value and describes the criteria for determining when pre-accessioning is appropriate.
  2. How does this bulletin differ from NARA Bulletin 2006-05?

    This bulletin has been updated to inform agencies that pre-accessioning is available at no cost to the transferring agency. It also clarifies in Item 6 the conditions under which NARA will pre-accession cumulative or dynamically-maintained series of electronic records.
  3. What is pre-accessioning?

    Pre-accessioning is when NARA fully processes (for preservation purposes) permanently valuable electronic records in order to assume physical custody before the records are scheduled to legally become part of the National Archives of the United States. During processing, NARA will copy the records onto archival quality media, verify the adequacy of the technical documentation, prepare the documentation according to NARA standards, and write draft descriptions of the records for later inclusion into NARA's National Archives Catalog once the records are transferred into NARA's legal custody. The transferring agency retains legal custody of the pre-accessioned electronic records until the records are scheduled to come under the legal custody of NARA. This allows NARA to preserve the records early in their lifecycle while the agency retains its authority and responsibility for providing access. NARA also provides the agency with off-site, no-cost security copies of the pre-accessioned records.
  4. What records will NARA pre-accession?

    NARA will pre-accession only electronic records that have been appraised as permanent. NARA will make the decision to pre-accession records on a case-by-case basis in consultation with the agency. The pre-accessioning option is not intended to relieve agencies of their responsibility for active maintenance of permanent electronic records in conformance with NARA regulations while they are in the agency's physical custody.
  5. What records are appropriate for pre-accessioning?

    NARA is more likely to pre-accession records when the records:

    • are part of an active agency dissemination program. Pre-accessioning permits the agency to protect its dissemination program while turning preservation over to NARA; or
    • contain highly sensitive information over which the agency wants to maintain access control.
  6. Are cumulatively or dynamically-maintained series of electronic records eligible for pre-accessioning?

    Yes, they can be under the following conditions:

    • If the agency seeks to pre-accession electronic records that are maintained cumulatively, the records should have clearly defined cutoff dates; each successive transfer should include only new records. Cumulative series of electronic records are those that have new information or records added with none of the old information or records being changed or deleted. An example would be cumulative databases that have new records added with none of the information in existing records changed or deleted. In this type of circumstance the records may be pre-accessioned soon after they become inactive; the cutoff could be "when case closed," with each successive periodic transfer including only records for newly closed cases.
    • If records are dynamic in nature, and the agency wishes to pre-accession them, the agency should transfer a periodic "snapshot" at intervals identified in the transfer instructions of the records schedule. Dynamic series of electronic records are those with information that is constantly being updated, replacing or overriding earlier versions of the records.
  7. What reference service will NARA provide on pre-accessioned records?

    NARA will provide a no-cost copy of pre-accessioned records to the agency upon request. If NARA receives an inquiry about pre-accessioned records, NARA will refer the researcher to the agency and will not respond to any question about the nature or contents of the records or possible access to the records. The agency will be responsible for responding to all discovery efforts, Freedom of Information Act requests, and other reference inquiries.
  8. Will NARA charge for pre-accessioning?

    NARA will not charge agencies for the processing or storage of pre-accessioned permanent electronic records. The agency will continue to maintain, service, and exercise legal custody over its own set of the electronic records until legal custody is transferred to NARA.
  9. What are the steps in pre-accessioning?
    a. NARA and the agency agree that NARA should pre-accession a body of scheduled permanent electronic records into the physical custody of the National Archives. The agency retains legal custody of the pre-accessioned electronic records.

    b. The agency completes and signs an Agreement to Transfer Records to the National Archives (SF 258) and submits it to NARA. Block 11 contains the date that the records will be eligible for acceptance into the legal custody of the National Archives.

    c. To distinguish between a pre-accession and a legal transfer of records to NARA, the agency completes Block 11 (in addition to the date) with the NARA bulletin number for pre-accessioning permanent electronic records and the date of the bulletin.

    d. NARA processes the records and then countersigns the SF 258 in block 3A and returns a copy to the agency.

    e. When the time agreed to accept the records into the legal custody of the National Archives arrives (the date specified in Block 11), NARA notifies the agency.

    f. If the agency has no objection, NARA will sign in Block 16 to accept the records into the legal custody of National Archives of the United States.

    g. At that time, NARA assumes responsibility for providing reference services for the electronic records.
  10. Who can I contact for additional information?

    For additional information on pre-accessioning, contact the Archival Services Manager, Electronic and Special Media Records Services Division (NWME), at (301) 837-3420 or cer@nara.gov.


Acting Archivist of the United States