Federal Records Management

Strategic Directions: Background and General Objectives

ATTENTION! This page has been superseded. The information listed below is no longer accurate. For NARA's current guidance please visit https://www.archives.gov/records-mgmt/policy. Please note that this page is available only as a technical and historical reference. 

National Archives and Records Administration
Strategic Directions: Guidance and Regulations

September 2003

Background and General Objectives

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) will review and revise its Federal records management regulations and guidance. This project will incorporate the principles found in NARA's Strategic Plan and in NARA's July 2003 Strategic Directions for Federal Records Management (hereinafter referred to as the strategic directions document). NARA's strategic directions document identifies several strategies that will serve as major guideposts for this project:

  • Restructure and rewrite (where necessary) regulations to focus on results rather than processes.
  • Incorporate the principles of NARA's Records Management Initiative1 (RMI) and ISO Records Management Standard 15489 into new or revised regulations.
  • Supplement regulations with new or revised guidance consistent with RMI and ISO 15489 principles and NARA's statutory authority.


Project Overview


We will identify and analyze those regulations that are process-oriented (i.e., those regulations that prescribe "what" or "how" records management is done), and then recast these regulations in a results-oriented manner. The primary purpose is to provide agencies with regulations that allow them to determine how best to manage their records to meet their business needs and statutory requirements.

The process-oriented regulations that are inconsistent with the results-oriented approach but are still useful to agencies will be converted to NARA guidance. The guidance will describe recommended but not mandatory methods that agencies could choose to use in managing their records. This guidance will likely come in the form of NARA Bulletins, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), and other mechanisms posted to NARA's web site and distributed to Federal agency records officers electronically. NARA will also incorporate the new guidance in new or revised instructional handbooks such as NARA's Disposition of Federal Records and other guides. As we proceed, we will seek the views of stakeholders to ensure that our changes in regulations and guidance support agency business processes and effective Federal records management.

We will use plain language in the new and revised regulations and guidance and will organize the information within an easy to use framework.


Project Linkage to the Strategic Plan


The revision of NARA's records management regulations will be consistent with NARA's Strategic Plan. NARA's Strategic Plan Goal No. 1 states that "Essential evidence will be created, identified, appropriately scheduled, and managed for as long as needed." The key strategies developed to realize this goal are:

  • We will analyze the practicality, relevance, and effectiveness of our records management legislation, regulations, and guidance; improve their clarity and consistency; and when appropriate, propose new legislation, regulations, and guidance that addresses changes that legislation and new technologies are bringing to Federal recordkeeping practices.
  • We will identify "best practices" in records management and promote their broader use; collaborate on innovative training programs and on experiments with information technologies; and lead in the development of policies, standards, and guidelines for effectively managing government records in the public interest.

The project will also be guided by a corollary goal of the Strategic Plan as it may involve revised or rewritten regulations and guidance:

  • We will evaluate and redesign, as necessary, the process for determining the disposition of records, regardless of format, to ensure we have a more credible, timely, and responsive process that includes a means to involve public users as well as public officials more effectively in appraisal decisions.


Project Linkage to the Strategic Directions Document


NARA's strategic directions document also identifies key strategies to implement Goal No. 1 of the Strategic Plan, as well as to meet the challenges posed by the increasing creation and use of electronic records in a wide variety of formats, and to records management in the Federal government. The following strategies proposed in the strategic directions document will serve as major guideposts for this project:

  • We will demonstrate that effective records management adds value to agency business processes. Our guidance, training, and assistance to agencies will focus on using records management as an important tool for supporting agency business processes.
  • We will stress that there is no one level to which all records must be managed. Resources, techniques, and tools should be allocated based on business needs for the records as information assets, legal requirements (e.g. the Federal Records Act, the Freedom of Information Act, and the Privacy Act), risks, and resources.
  • We will stress that agencies may choose a variety of means to manage their records, including traditional records management programs, automated tools, or other approaches. Our concern will be how well records are managed, not whether agencies have all the elements of a traditional records management program.
  • Our approach to records management will be based on the ISO Records Management Standard 15489. We will focus on the importance of trustworthy records, and we will stress the concepts of authenticity, reliability, integrity, and usability found in the ISO Standard. We will stress that records management processes occur throughout the records life cycle, rather than in a fixed, sequential manner. In developing regulations, policies and guidance, NARA will stress the importance of agencies documenting their business processes, assessing the value of their information assets, and using risk assessment to determine appropriate records management approaches.
  • We will provide leadership, in partnership with other key stakeholders, to focus agency attention on electronic records needs and to guide and support solutions to electronic records issues and problems.


ISO 15489 (Records Management)


As stated above, NARA will carefully review ISO 15489 to determine how its concepts can be effectively incorporated into NARA's regulations and guidance. While ISO 15489 may be especially useful in NARA regulations pertaining to electronic records, the concepts and terms in the standard apply to all records regardless of their format or media. We will review and incorporate other provisions in the standard that are consistent with NARA's current statutory authority.

Areas of ISO 15489 that will be especially important in this review are the policy and program framework for records management programs, the linkage between good records management and good business practices, the focus on managing business information, and the roles and responsibilities of those staff who are directly and indirectly involved in managing the records of an organization.


Other RMI Projects


RMI projects relating to Flexible Scheduling, Expanded Use of the General Record Schedules, and Resource Allocation (among others) will be evaluated to determine if they require regulatory changes to support their implementation. As part of implementation, these RMI products may require new guidance for agencies.


Better Organization and the Use of Plain Language


NARA will devise a regulatory framework that will make it easier to find specific information in the regulations. This new framework will most likely be based around the records lifecycle. The regulations may also include information covering specific types of records, the components of a records management program, and the major components of ISO 15489. The expected result is the reordering and editing of existing regulations as well as the addition of new subparts that help users identify major topics in the records management regulations in a logical and organized manner.

All proposed regulations and guidance will conform to the Federal Government's "plain language" requirements.


Project Step One:


  • Devise a high-level framework for NARA's records management regulations that:
    1. focuses on results;
    2. incorporates RMI and ISO 15489 principles


Project Step Two:


  • Begin process to implement new regulatory framework devised in Project Step Specific activities will include redlining "process-oriented" regulations; rewriting remaining regulations to conform to the general objectives of the framework (results- oriented regulations); writing new regulations that are required for the new framework; and ensuring all new regulations comport with "plain language" requirements. Because of the large scope of the project, NARA will likely implement the new framework in several increments.
  • While implementing the new regulatory framework, NARA will consult with agencies to ensure proposed changes support their business needs and do not adversely affect their ability to carry out their records management responsibilities.


Project Step Three


  • Identify and create guidance that supports and supplements the new high-level framework. Project Step Three will be carried out concurrently with steps one and two. Areas of immediate concentration will include:
    1. e-mail guidance, including the use of GRS 23 item 7 for transitory e-mail
    2. guidance for assessing the validity of retention periods for paper records when agencies switch to electronic formats.


Project Step Four


  • Submit drafts of new regulations and guidance for internal NARA and external agency review and comment and then issue the final versions. This will be an iterative step. As a piece of the framework is filled in with a proposed new or revised regulation or guidance document, the draft will be submitted for review and comment, and then issued in final form.


1Individual projects and papers related to the redesign of Federal records management are collectively referred to as the Records Management Initiative or RMI.