Federal Records Management

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Transferring Permanent Electronic Records to NARA

February 10, 2021, updated May 5, 2021  

1. What are the steps in transferring permanent electronic records?

First you should ensure the records are scheduled permanent and are no longer needed for business use. Once you have determined the records transfer eligibility, you will need to submit a transfer request (TR) in the Electronic Records Archives (ERA). Please refer to the Accessioning Electronic Records page for details on completing the TR. For those records scheduled for permanent retention on a General Records Schedule, such as records of a Federal Advisory Commission Act (FACA) Commission or Capstone email, those records are transferred on an Agreement to Transfer Records to the National Archives of the United States Standard Form 258 (SF-258).  An electronic records archivist will review the TR and inform you if any changes are required. Once you have an approved TR, you may send your records to NARA. The method of transfer will depend on the type and volume of records you plan to transfer.

At any point in this process, please consult with your electronic records archivist, or email Etransfers@nara.gov for assistance.

2. Who should I contact about transferring permanent electronic records?

For most formats of born-digital records, please consult with your electronic records archivist, or email Etransfers@nara.gov for assistance. 

For transfers consisting of solely digital photography, contact NARA’s Still Picture Branch at stillpix.accessions@nara.gov. For transfers consisting of solely digital audio and video recordings, contact NARA’s Motion Picture Branch at mopix@nara.gov.

3. What file formats will NARA accept? 

NARA Bulletin 2014-04 provides guidance regarding the file formats to use when transferring permanent electronic records to NARA. This bulletin contains an appendix of preferred and acceptable file formats based on record type.

NARA chose these formats due to their sustainability, or the suitability of the format to preserve encoded information over time. In addition, the formats are usually based on internationally recognized standards that are open source or have published specifications.

4. How do I send permanent electronic records to NARA?

NARA can accept transfers of electronic records on media or via an electronic transfer process. Common media used to transfer electronic records are Compact-Disk, Read Only Memory (CD-ROM), Digital Video Disks (DVDs), thumbdrives, and external harddrives. Records on physical media can be mailed or delivered in person to NARA. If mailing records on media, NARA recommends using a mail service which offers package tracking. Please see 36 CFR 1235.46 for additional information.

Additionally, agencies may use their own Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) site to share files or they can upload records to a NARA SFTP site, with some limitations. Contact your electronic records archivist, or email Etransfers@nara.gov for assistance.

5. What are the limitations with NARA’s SFTP site?
Several factors may limit the use of SFTP as a transfer method:

  • The SFTP method is unclassified and cannot be used for classified records. The agency and NARA will mutually agree on the appropriateness of SFTP transfer.
  • Each upload link that NARA provides has a 15 GB file limit. Given the size limitations, especially if the transfer is over 20 files or 1 GB, we strongly recommend that that agency ZIP their files to simplify the transfer process.
  • The upload link is active for only 14 days. Agencies need to be ready to transfer files at the time the request is made and may need to break up the transfer into multiple transfer segments.

6. Can we do cloud-to-cloud transfer?

NARA is currently testing the ability to transfer files from one Amazon GovCloud account to another; however, this capability is not available to agencies at this time.

7. Can we transfer through ERA?

NARA ceased using the ERA “Base” system as the digital repository for electronic records in October 2019, effectively ending the ability to directly transfer records to ERA. The agency interface to the ERA 2.0 system is under development, but it will include the ability for agencies to directly upload or use a cloud-to-cloud transfer process.

8. Can I send physical electronic media (computer tapes, hard drives, CDs, etc.) to a Federal Records Center?

Electronic records that are scheduled permanent are normally maintained by the agency until they are eligible for transfer to NARA. The records may not be stored at a Federal Records Center (FRC) due to preservation concerns unique to electronic records. However, if your agency has temporary electronic records on media that are no longer needed for business use, you may send those records to an FRC until the end of the retention period. Contact your Federal Records Centers Account Manager for further information about FRC electronic media services.

9. I have old computer media, but no hardware to read them anymore. Can NARA read them for me?

If your agency has old computer media and you cannot be certain that they contain only scheduled permanent records, we recommend you contact a data recovery service. GSA Schedule 70 includes some data recovery contractors.

10. What documentation needs to accompany a transfer of Capstone email?

The general transfer requirements associated with Capstone email, including documentation, are defined in Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about GRS 6.1: Email Managed under a Capstone Approach. Please see the section titled Questions About Transfer and the answer to Question 36 for information on documentation.

11. When preparing email for transfer, do they have to be grouped into an aggregate format (PST) or can they be transferred as individual messages?
NARA Bulletin 2014-04, Appendix A defines the acceptable and preferred formats for the transfer of individual emails and for aggregations of emails. There is no requirement that emails be grouped into an aggregate format. However, agencies may find economies and efficiencies in managing the emails associated with an individual account as a single email aggregation such as a PST, rather than managing hundreds or thousands of individual emails.