Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Records Management During the COVID-19 Pandemic
NARA RM FAQs 2020-01
Issued: April 23, 2020
Revised: October 20, 2020
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.
Records Management Related to Teleworking
How should agencies capture and maintain records created while staff are teleworking during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Employees on telework should continue to manage all records in accordance with their agency policies and procedures. See our FAQ on Telework.
Some teleworking employees may find that they use personal email accounts or other electronic messaging applications, like text messages or messaging apps within social media or video conferencing tools, to communicate for work. Please note the Federal Records Act (44 U.S.C. 2911) requires Federal employees who use non-official electronic messaging accounts to copy their electronic messages to an official account or forward a copy to an official account within 20 days (when the messages are not transitory records with a retention of less than 20 days).
If an agency is using Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business, Zoom, or another video conferencing platform to communicate with one another, do these tools need to be scheduled?
Many agency meetings, seminars, training sessions, and other events have moved to a virtual environment. Agencies should continue to manage the records created with these tools as they would have had the meetings been held with the same technology while in the office. Teleconferencing tools are much like social media platforms. These are software and technology solutions for communications that do not require a records schedule.
If employees print at home, are those printouts Federal records?
Agencies should consider the implications of allowing printing at home, including from a records management, FOIA, and information security perspective. If printouts contain unique information, including handwritten notes, they may need to be managed separately from electronic files that lack this information. Agencies should review GRS 5.2 and provide instructions to employees on when these printouts may be transitory or intermediary records or when another records schedule may apply.
Are employee medical records related to COVID-19 covered by the GRS?
No; not at this time, unless the agency is putting COVID-19-related information into individual employee medical files.
GRS 2.7, Employee Health and Safety Records, includes items for employee medical files; however, the items specifically cover official employee medical files (Occupational individual medical case files, items 060-062) and unofficial employee medical files (Non-occupational individual medical case files, item 070). Unless an agency is putting COVID-19 related information into individual employee medical files, these items will not apply.
GRS 2.7, items 040-043, Workplace Environmental Monitoring and Exposure Records, do not apply to tracking employee exposure to COVID-19. These items apply to exposure to hazardous chemicals, noise, Lead (Pb), Coke Oven emissions, Dibromochloropropane (DBCP), Acrylonitrile, and Inorganic Arsenic. We are monitoring changes to OSHA regulations to determine if GRS revisions are needed.
Are records related to agency response to COVID-19 covered by the GRS?
GRS 5.3, Continuity and Emergency Planning Records, covers records related to Federal agency internal emergency planning to:
- protect people, government facilities, equipment, and records;
- safeguard classified or sensitive (controlled unclassified) information;
- ensure continuity of agency operations in the face of potential natural and man-made disasters; and
- facilitate timely recovery and return to normal agency operations once the emergency or disaster has passed.
This GRS would cover records related to planning for the COVID-19 pandemic.
GRS 5.3, Continuity and Emergency Planning Records, only covers records related to Federal agency internal emergency planning to protect people, government facilities, equipment, and records; to safeguard classified or sensitive information; to ensure continuity of agency operations in the face of potential natural and man-made disasters; and to facilitate timely recovery and return to normal agency operations once the emergency or disaster has passed. This would include planning for the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the GRS does not cover incident response records or external emergency planning records related to providing emergency response and recovery services to the public. These records should be scheduled on agency-specific schedules. Agencies should look at their existing authorities related to incident response to see if they can be applied to records related to their response to COVID-19. If agencies do not have approved disposition authority for incident response records, these records would need to be scheduled.
In regard to COVID-19 internal emergency planning records, the GRS indicates that plans that are acted upon in the event of a national emergency may be of permanent value. Agencies may request to schedule these records as permanent. (See GRS 5.3, item 010, Note 1). This does not mean that all internal emergency plans related to COVID-19 are permanent, only that NARA will consider schedules from agencies that believe these plans should be permanent.
Can agencies use GRS 2.7, item 070 or GRS 5.3, Item 010, to schedule records related to agency employee exposure to COVID-19 and testing of employees for the virus?
Generally speaking, no, you may not use GRS 2.7, item 070, or GRS 5.3, item 010, to cover agency records that track employee exposure or testing for COVID-19. The GRS can be used only if that information is being placed in individual employee medical files (GRS 2.7, items 060-070), which is unlikely. We are in the process of developing updates to the GRS to cover these records.
Will NARA be issuing a General Records Schedule (GRS) to cover COVID-19 records?
NARA is not planning to issue a new GRS specifically for COVID-19 records. As we learn more about records that are being created as Federal employees return to facilities, we are looking at expanding the GRS through new or revised items so that common records will be covered. We do not have a timeframe for issuing new or revised GRS at this time; however, we are posting GRS status updates on our website.
Can agencies apply their disposition authorities for disaster response, incident response, or pandemics to records related to responding to COVID-19? Does it require a modification to the schedule?
Yes, agencies may apply disposition authorities for records related to disaster response, incident response, or pandemics to records related to their COVID-19 response. However, if those disposition authorities apply only to records related to a specific incident, such as the Hurricane Katrina response, you cannot apply them to COVID-19 response records. If the disposition authorities are written to apply generally to such incidents, there should be no need to specify application to COVID-19. If you have questions about whether your agency’s authority may be applied to COVID-19 response records, please contact your agency’s assigned NARA appraisal archivist.
If your agency does not have a disposition authority for disaster, incident, or pandemic response, then you will need to schedule records related to response to COVID-19.
Are records related to COVID-19 permanent?
It depends. NARA expects that records documenting the significant actions of Federal officials related to the pandemic often will be captured based on existing approved schedule items. Some may be permanent; some may be temporary. However, since this emergency may create new offices or add significantly new or increased levels of responsibility specific to the pandemic, agencies should be prepared to evaluate their records for their operational or historical significance. If new records are created in response to the pandemic that are not specifically scheduled, a new schedule would need to be proposed and approved to cover such records. With the extent of the government-wide response, each agency will need to evaluate the enduring value of the records they create specific to this crisis, as has occurred in the aftermath of large-scale natural disasters in recent memory. This evaluation would highlight any need for new or updated schedules.
Please contact your NARA appraisal archivist for further assistance.
With the scale of COVID-19, will agencies need to keep employee health records and agency response and planning records longer than they are currently scheduled?
Generally, the retention schedule of any record takes into account future business needs as well as the potential for use in litigation or to seek benefits. However, after the current public health crisis subsides, agencies should work with their internal stakeholders, including their Office of General Counsel (OGC), to determine if the records warrant re-appraisal.
Should records related to COVID-19 be kept in case of possible litigation?
Records officers should be in communication with their agency’s OGC to determine if any records are needed for current or the reasonable likelihood of litigation. Agencies should have internal policies in place regarding issuing of litigation holds, if that is necessary. NARA does not recommend retaining records “just in case” of litigation. This can result in retention of records long after the need for them has passed as well as a lack of clarity over why they were retained and who has the authority to dispose of them. Rather, litigation holds should be implemented in accordance with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, agency policies, and guidance from the Department of Justice.
Who should agencies contact for additional information?