Federal Records Management

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about NARA’s Digitization Regulation

April 12, 2019

What was the amendment to the digitization regulation?

On April 10, 2019, NARA published an update to our Electronic Records Management regulation (final rule) in 36 CFR Chapter XII, Subchapter B, Part 1236 by adding a new Subpart D - Digitizing Temporary Federal Records. The amended regulation is available at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/04/10/2019-06916/electronic-records-management and is effective as of May 10, 2019.

Subpart D applies to temporary records, regardless of format. The regulation does not yet address digitization and disposition processes for permanent records.

Why is NARA issuing a regulation on digitizing records?

In 2014, the Federal Records Act, 44 U.S.C. § 3302, was amended by Public Law 113-87 and required NARA to promulgate regulations establishing “standards for the reproduction of records by photographic, microphotographic, or digital processes with a view to the disposal of the original records.”  In other words, the law required NARA to develop standards for digitizing records in a regulation so that agencies can destroy original source records.

May agencies destroy temporary original source records that they have digitized?

If agencies validate that they digitized temporary records according to the standards in this regulation, they may destroy the original source records pursuant to an appropriate NARA-approved disposition authority.

How do agencies validate that they have digitized temporary records according to this regulation’s standards?

Agencies may develop or adopt their own validation process. However, the process must include a method for checking that the digitized versions of temporary records capture all information contained in the original source records, including all the pages or other sources (such as envelopes, cards, or sticky notes), and that the agency can use the digitized versions for the same purposes as the original source records, including the ability to attest to transactions and activities.

Agencies must document the validation process they use and retain that documentation for the life of the validation process or the life of any records digitized using that validation process, whichever is longer. Further information about the GRS authority for disposition of the validation process records will be forthcoming.

Agencies do not need to seek NARA approval as part of their validation process. NARA may review validation documentation as needed.

What disposition authority applies to temporary original source records?

The temporary original source records remain Federal records. Agencies must use an approved disposition authority to destroy them once digitized. The original source records become intermediary records if the agency elects to make the digitized version the official recordkeeping copy. Agencies may use the General Records Schedule (GRS) 5.2, Item 20, Intermediary Records or a current, NARA-approved agency-specific records schedule that covers the records once digitized.

What if the digitization processes used in the past for temporary records do not meet the standards issued in the regulation? Will agencies have to re-digitize the original source records?

Agencies may need to assess prior digitization work if the agency’s previous digitization standards are not generally compliant with the regulation. In these cases, agencies will likely need to retain the original source records as the recordkeeping copy for the scheduled retention period, or they may choose to re-digitize.

Do agencies have to submit notices of unauthorized disposal for destruction of temporary original source records that were digitized and disposed of prior to this regulation update?

If temporary original source records were digitized and disposed of in accordance with a valid records schedule (agency-specific or GRS) prior to this regulation update, then agencies do not have to submit an unauthorized disposal notification.

Will NARA update the GRS for original source records that have been digitized?

Yes, when NARA publishes the update for digitizing permanent records, we will update GRS 5.2 to ensure that all records associated with digitization projects are expressly covered.

When will NARA provide a regulation with standards for digitizing permanent records?

We are developing another Subpart to this regulation with standards for digitizing and validating permanent records, and will publish it as a proposed rule for interagency and public review and then as final rule.

May agencies destroy permanent original source records they have already digitized?

NARA advises against disposing of permanent original source records after digitizing until we publish standards for digitizing permanent records as a rule. Agencies should consult with their general counsel on the risks of destroying the permanent original source records before the rule is final. In particular, there is a risk that the disposal of original source records could be subject to legal challenge absent an applicable NARA regulation. (See Robinson v. McDonald, 28 Vet. App. 178, 187 (No. 15-0715, 2016)). NARA’s Office of General Counsel is available to meet with an agency’s general counsel and staff to advise further on the issue.

How do media neutral notifications relate to permanent records?

In 2010, NARA established a process by which agencies could notify us that they were going to digitize permanent records and eventually transfer digitized versions to NARA. The media neutral notification concept and processes are contained in NARA Bulletin 2010-04. The Bulletin also provides guidance on disposing of original source records after completing the notification process.

Will NARA continue to accept media neutral notifications?

Yes, NARA will continue to accept media neutral notifications for permanent records. Please contact your agency’s NARA appraisal archivist with specific questions.

Will NARA continue to accept proposed schedules for digitized permanent records?

Yes, if NARA receives an agency-specific records schedule that proposes disposing of permanent original source records after digitization, we will register the submitted schedule and begin the review and approval process. However, we will advise the agency that the schedule cannot be approved by the Archivist of the United States until we publish the regulation for digitizing permanent records.

Will NARA accept transfers of digitized permanent records?

Yes, NARA is accepting transfers of digitized permanent records. An agency may begin the transfer process in ERA if they:

  • have completed the media neutral notification process with NARA when the original source record was the recordkeeping copy; or
  • have a valid schedule that declares the electronic record as the recordkeeping copy.

In either case, we may further consult with the agency about the transfer.

Who should agencies contact for additional information?

For questions about the digitization standards or records management issues, please contact acps@nara.gov. For questions about the regulation process, please contact Kimberly Keravuori at regulation_comments@nara.gov or 301-837-3151.