Federal Records Management

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about Digitizing Temporary Records

Issued: October 4, 2023


1. What is the regulation for digitizing temporary records?

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.

2. Why did NARA issue a regulation with digitization standards for temporary 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 issue regulations containing standards for digitizing records so that agencies can destroy source records.

3. 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 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 source records, including the ability to attest to transactions and activities.

Agencies must document the validation process they use and retain that documentation. Destroy the documentation when the records digitized using the validation process are destroyed, but longer retention is authorized if required for business use.

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

4. May agencies destroy temporary source records that they have digitized?

The temporary source records remain federal records and need an approved disposition authority. If agencies validate that they digitized temporary records according to the standards in this regulation, they may destroy the source records pursuant to General Records Schedule (GRS) 4.5, item 010, or an agency records schedule that covers the source records.

5. What if the digitization processes used in the past for temporary records do not meet the standards issued in the regulation?

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

6. Do agencies have to submit notices of unauthorized disposal for destruction of temporary source records that were digitized and disposed of without meeting the temporary digitization standards?

If temporary 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. If agencies determine that an unauthorized destruction has occurred, agencies must follow the requirements in 36 CFR 1230.14.

7. What other requirements apply to digitized records?

The scope of the digitization regulation is intentionally limited to the digitization of temporary records. The resulting digital records must comply with any other relevant guidance. For example, digital records must comply with the proper handling of controlled unclassified information (CUI) and with 36 CFR Part 1194 (Section 508). Agencies should work with their legal counsel and other officials to ensure compliance with these and any other applicable requirements.

In addition, the resulting digitized records must comply with NARA guidance on managing electronic records. NARA has issued the Universal Electronic Records Management Requirements as a set of minimum requirements that apply to the capture, maintenance, and disposal of federal electronic records. Digitized records must be managed in an electronic recordkeeping system that meets these requirements.

8. Can agencies use the digitization standards for permanent records for their temporary records?

Yes, agencies may apply the digitization standards for permanent records to their temporary records. The digitization standards for permanent records are available at 36 CFR Chapter XII, Subchapter B, Part 1236, Subpart E - Digitizing Permanent Federal Records. Agencies may find those requirements relevant for temporary records with long retention periods, such as more than 30 years, or for temporary records likely to be used as evidence in courts. NARA does not recommend that agencies use the digitization standards for permanent as a default for all temporary records. Agency stakeholders should discuss their business needs in order to decide whether to apply all or part of the standards for permanent records. An example of using part of the permanent standards would be choosing to use one of the specified file formats.

NARA is still developing digitization standards for permanent records on film and dynamic media. Questions about these digitization standards can be sent to rmstandards@nara.gov

9. What digitization standard should agencies use when digitizing unscheduled records?

Unscheduled records must be treated as permanent until a records schedule is approved (36 CFR 1225.16(c)(2)). Therefore, if an agency is digitizing unscheduled records, they must follow the regulations with digitization standards for permanent records. NARA strongly suggests agencies complete the scheduling process before beginning digitization projects.

10. Who should agencies contact for additional information?

For questions about NARA’s digitization standards, please contact rmstandards@nara.gov. Additional information about digitization of federal records is available at NARA's digitization webpage.