Federal Records Management

NARA Bulletin 2020-02

This guidance pertains only to Federal agencies and applicable contractors and is binding on agency actions as required by law and similar authority. This guidance does not apply to, and is not meant to bind, the public, except as authorized by law or regulation or as incorporated into a contract.

September 30, 2020

TO: Heads of Federal Agencies

SUBJECT: Guidance on Scheduling the Early and Late Transfer of Permanent Records

EXPIRATION DATE: Expires when revoked or superseded

1. What is the purpose of this Bulletin?

This Bulletin supersedes NARA Bulletin 2015-01, Scheduling Guidance on the Appropriate Age for Legal Transfer of Permanent Records to the National Archives of the United States. 

In 2015, NARA issued guidance for scheduling permanent records with retention periods less than 15 years. This updated Bulletin covers those records and adds guidance on scheduling permanent records with retention periods more than 30 years. 

This Bulletin applies to new schedules and requests to change previously approved schedules.

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

For permanent records, we typically approve records schedules with a retention period of between 15 and 30 years before transfer to the National Archives. All Federal agencies are required to transfer their permanent records to NARA at their scheduled disposition date in accordance with NARA regulations and Goal 1.4 of the OMB/NARA memorandum, Transition to Electronic Records (OMB/NARA M-19-21).  

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.

Some unclassified records, such as personnel files, law enforcement files, and files governed by specific statutes, may require an agency to retain them longer than 30 years to meet the agency’s business needs. In addition, we do not usually approve records schedules proposing the legal transfer of security classified records earlier than 25 years.

3. How do agencies propose an early or late legal transfer?

Agencies must complete the Checklist for Proposing the Early Legal Transfer of Permanent Records when proposing a records schedule for transferring unclassified records that are less than 15 years old or security classified records that are less than 25 years old. 

Agencies must complete the Checklist for Proposing the Late Legal Transfer of Permanent Records when records will be transferred to NARA more than 30 years after cutoff or when the records are more than 30 years old, if transfer is based on the age of the record. 

Agencies must provide the completed checklist with the proposed new schedule or request to change previously approved schedule items

These checklists help us determine if earlier or later legal transfer dates are appropriate. Submitting a checklist in no way guarantees that we will approve the proposed schedule. Based on the submitted documents, we will provide additional advice to the agency on determining the appropriate retention period for the records.

4. What should agencies consider when developing a proposed retention period?

Agencies should determine their ongoing operational business and information access needs for the records when proposing a retention period and preparing schedules. As part of this determination, agency records management staff should consult various stakeholder programs or units, such as the records creator, offices that regularly use the records or generate reports based on the records, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) staff, Privacy Act staff, and general counsel staff.  The business and access needs may differ between units. Agencies should also consider whether they are equipped to preserve and maintain the records for the duration of the retention period. These needs will impact whether or not the records are appropriate for early or late legal transfer. 

5. What additional factors should agencies consider when proposing the early legal transfer of records?

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

Once NARA accepts legal custody of records, we 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, we will provide one free copy upon request by the agency records officer, subject to NARA-determined technical and volume limitations. If an agency foresees immediate business or access needs, the records would not be good candidates for early legal 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, we do 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 would not be good candidates for early legal transfer. 

6. When is late legal transfer not appropriate? 

Generally, late legal transfer is not appropriate when an agency merely anticipates occasional future use of the records; when NARA is able to screen the records for public access and apply appropriate FOIA redactions; or when an agency is unable to ensure long-term preservation of the records.  

7.  What long-term preservation factors must agencies consider if proposing late transfer?

Agencies must ensure the long-term preservation of records until they are legally transferred to NARA. Long-term preservation factors include meeting records storage requirements, having migration strategies, maintaining and associating required metadata and related documentation, and preparing records for transfer according to NARA guidance at that time.

8. Are special media records good candidates for legal transfer earlier than 15 years?

Yes, discrete series of special media records (still pictures, maps, charts, aerial photography, motion pictures, sound recordings, and accompanying finding aids that are not mixed with other textual records) are generally less restricted and are good candidates for legal transfer earlier than 15 years. If records are open to the public, agencies should complete the checklist and work with us to schedule the legal transfer of these records as soon as possible after business use has ended.   

9. Whom 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 for a list of appraisal archivists.



Archivist of the United States