Federal Records Management

Bulletin 2015-01

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 This page has been superseded.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 Please note that this page is available only as a technical and historical reference.

June 17, 2015

TO: Heads of Federal Agencies

SUBJECT: Scheduling Guidance on the Appropriate Age for Legal Transfer of Permanent Records to the National Archives of the United States

EXPIRATION DATE: Expires when revoked or superseded

1. What is the purpose of this Bulletin?

This Bulletin provides agencies with scheduling guidance on determining the appropriate age at which permanent records, regardless of their media or format, should be transferred into the legal custody to the National Archives of the United States.

This Bulletin applies when agencies submit new records schedules to the National Archives and Records Administration for approval. If an agency would like change the transfer date of an approved records schedule, the agency should utilize the process for Changes to Previously Approved Schedule Items. This guidance will apply to any proposed changes.

2. When should the legal transfer of permanent records to NARA occur?

Agencies should transfer legal custody of permanent records only when business use has ceased and the passage of time has lessened the sensitivity of the records.

The Federal Records Act establishes a general standard that permanent records should be legally transferred to NARA as soon as practicable but not later than 30 years after their creation or receipt. (See 44 U.S.C. 2107(a)(2)). NARA typically schedules the legal transfer of unclassified records between 15 and 30 years. Some unclassified records, such as personnel files, law enforcement files, and files governed by specific statutes, may require retention longer than 30 years to meet the agency’s business needs. In addition, NARA does not usually approve records schedules proposing the legal transfer of security classified records less than 25 years.

In cases where schedules have instructions to cut-off records to create blocks for transfer, the youngest record in the block should be 15 years old when proposed for legal transfer. For example, if records are grouped in 5 year blocks, the age of records would range from 15 to 20 years at the time of legal transfer and not 10 to 15 years.

3. How do agencies propose a legal transfer date less than 15 years?

When proposing a records schedule for unclassified records less than 15 years old, or security classified records less than 25 years old, an agency must complete a Checklist for Proposing the Early Legal Transfer of Permanent Records.

This checklist is intended to help determine if earlier legal transfer dates are appropriate. Submission of the checklist in no way guarantees that NARA will approve the proposed schedule. Provide the completed checklist with the proposed schedule or request to change previously approved schedule items. NARA will assist agencies in determining the appropriate retention period for the records.

4. What should agencies consider when determining business and access needs?

Agencies should determine the ongoing operational business and information access needs of the records. Agencies should consult various stakeholder programs or units, such as the records creator, Freedom of Information Act staff, Privacy Act staff, and General Counsel staff. These needs may differ between units. These needs will impact whether or not the records are appropriate for early transfer. Stakeholders should consider the following questions:

  • Will your agency need in-person access to the records?

Once NARA accepts legal custody of records, NARA will not loan the records to the creating agency. Agencies will be able to access records at the appropriate NARA facility through the normal researcher process. For electronic records, NARA will provide one free copy upon request from the agency records officer. If an agency foresees business or access needs, the records would not be good candidates for early transfer.

  • Is your agency prepared to transfer FOIA responsibilities to NARA?

NARA does not consult with agencies regarding the release of unclassified accessioned records. Further, NARA does not apply FOIA exemption (b)(5) to accessioned records. If an agency believes the records would have to be heavily redacted or withheld in full under FOIA, the records may not be good candidates for early transfer.

5. Can electronic or special media records be legally transferred earlier than 15 years?

Records in electronic or special media (still pictures, maps, charts, aerial photography, motion pictures, sound recordings and accompanying finding aids) formats often have unique preservation and storage concerns. Agencies should complete the checklist and work with NARA to schedule the physical and legal transfer of these records as soon as possible after business use has ended.

Permanent electronic records NOT appropriate for legal transfer before 15 years, or 25 years for security-classified electronic records, may be candidates for pre-accessioning. When records are pre-accessioned, NARA maintains a copy of the records but is not the legal custodian. The agency is responsible for access to the records until legal transfer is completed. See NARA Bulletin 2009-03, Pre-accessioning Permanent Electronic Records.

6. Who do I contact for more information?

For additional information, please contact the appraisal archivist assigned to work with your agency. See http://www.archives.gov/records-mgmt/appraisal/index.html.

Archivist of the United States