Federal Records Management

Frequently Asked Questions about Records Management in General

What is records management?

There are many, though similar, definitions of records management. One common one is "the field of management responsible for the systematic control of the creation, maintenance, use, and disposition of records." From the Federal perspective, it is the planning, controlling, directing, organizing, training, promoting, and other managerial activities involved in records creation, maintenance and use, and disposition in order to achieve adequate and proper documentation of the policies and transactions of the Federal Government and effective and economical management of agency operations (44 U.S.C. 2901).

Records management addresses the life cycle of records, i.e., the period of time that records are in the custody of Federal agencies. The life cycle usually consists of three stages:

  • Creation or receipt
  • Maintenance and use
  • Disposition

Tools for maintaining and using records include file plans, indexes, controlled vocabularies, taxonomies, data dictionaries, and access and security procedures. The main tool used to manage the disposition of records is the records schedule.

Who is responsible for records management?

NARA is the independent Federal agency that helps preserve our nation's history by overseeing the management of all Federal records. The National Archives and Records Administration Act of 1984 amended the records management statutes to divide records management oversight responsibilities between the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and the General Services Administration (GSA). Under the Act, NARA is responsible for adequacy of documentation and records disposition (44 U.S.C. 2904(a)) , and GSA is responsible for economy and efficiency in records management (44 U.S.C. 2904(b)). Federal agency records management programs must comply with regulations promulgated by both NARA (36 CFR 1220.2) and GSA . 

What are Federal agency responsibilities?

Every Federal agency is legally required to manage its records. Records are the evidence of the agency's actions. Therefore, they must be managed properly for the agency to function effectively and to comply with Federal laws and regulations.

Agency heads have specific legal requirements for records management which include:

  • Making and preserving records that contain adequate and proper documentation of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, and essential transactions of the agency and designed to furnish the information necessary to protect the legal and financial rights of the Government and of persons directly affected by the agency's activities (44 U.S.C. 3101).
  • Establishing and maintaining an active, continuing program for the economical and efficient management of the records of the agency (44 U.S.C. 3102).
  • Establishing safeguards against the removal or loss of records and making requirements and penalties known to agency officials and employees (44 U.S.C. 3105)
  • Notifying the Archivist of any actual, impending, or threatened unlawful destruction of records and assisting in their recovery (44 U.S.C. 3106)

What are Federal employee responsibilities?

Federal employees are responsible for making and keeping records of their work. Federal employees have three basic obligations regarding Federal records:

  1. Create records needed to do the business of their agency, record decisions and actions taken, and document activities for which they are responsible
  2. Take care of records so that information can be found when needed. This means setting up good directories and files, and filing materials (in whatever format) regularly and carefully in a manner that allows them to be safely stored and efficiently retrieved when necessary
  3. Carry out the disposition of records under their control in accordance with agency records schedules and Federal regulations

What are the benefits of records management?

Records enable and support an agency's work to fulfill its mission. Every organization, including Federal agencies, must address well-defined objectives that add value, either by achieving the organization's goals or by reducing costs. Since records contain information, a valuable resource, it is essential to take a systematic approach to the management of records. Records management:

  • Contributes to the smooth operation of your agency's programs by making the information needed for decision making and operations readily available
  • Helps deliver services in a consistent and equitable manner
  • Facilitates effective performance of activities throughout an agency
  • Protects the rights of the agency, its employees, and its customers
  • Provides continuity in the event of a disaster
  • Protects records from inappropriate and unauthorized access
  • Meets statutory and regulatory requirements including archival, audit, and oversight activities
  • Provides protection and support in litigation
  • Allows quicker retrieval of documents and information from files
  • Improves office efficiency and productivity
  • Provides better documentation more efficiently
  • Supports and documents historical and other research
  • Frees up office space for other purposes by moving inactive records to storage facilities
  • Avoids unnecessary purchases of office equipment

Updated 7/11/17