Federal Records Management

Fast Track Products

ATTENTION! This product is no longer current. For the most recent NARA guidance, see the Universal Electronic Records Management Requirements



This document, like other Fast Track products, is intended to help agencies who may be considering whether to:

  • implement an Electronic Recordkeeping (ERK) system to manage electronic records,
  • implement an Electronic Records Management (ERM) system to automate some or all aspects of an agency's records management program, or
  • improve some aspect of records management functions in an existing system or application.

This overview of basic concepts about typical records management functions and overall records management program functions will provide useful background information to records managers, information technologists, and other agency staff who may be involved in such an initiative.

Information Lifecycle

All information has a lifecycle. Information is created, captured in some form, stored and ultimately destroyed or preserved indefinitely. In Federal agencies much of the information should be identified as a Federal record; because it documents government activities or because of the value of the data it contains. Information that is identified as a Federal record is usually placed under records management control, which follows a similar lifecycle: it is identified as a record, captured as a record, stored as a record, and either destroyed or preserved.

The following sections expand on this simple lifecycle concept:

  • first by summarizing the typical activities of a records management program, and
  • second by describing briefly the functions typically involved in managing records.

Typical RM Program Activities

An effective records management program is the foundation on which an agency can begin automating records management activities or implementing systems to manage electronic records. Some of the major activities of a typical records management program are described in the following. In conjunction with agency Records Management Officers, these activities are performed on an ongoing basis in order to establish and maintain an effective records management program.

    Distinguish records from non-records and uniquely identify the records found. Determine how, how many, and by whom records are being created or received and identify their relationship to the agency's business operations or functions.
    Specify how records are to be organized once they have been created or received. Identify the classes of records (record series) that an organization produces, and establish how to associate given records within a class to other records in that same class. For example, put all the travel vouchers in a file marked "travel vouchers" or, alternatively, put all travel vouchers for person X in a file marked "person X travel."
    Determine where and how long records need to be retained and what their final disposition will be. Records typically go through a period of active use at the time of, and shortly after, their creation. As records are used less frequently, they become inactive and are often transferred to less expensive storage media or locations. All Federal records must be assigned a final disposition, which must be approved by NARA (44 USC 3303). Records schedules call for the disposition of records based on time, or event, or a combination of time and event. Records are either scheduled for destruction or for transfer to the National Archives for permanent preservation. Determining how long records need to be retained - and under what conditions - can dramatically reduce agency resource outlays and at the same time ensure that agencies are maintaining adequate and proper documentation of agency activities.
    Develop and distribute agency-specific policies and procedures for implementing records management activities, including for records created or maintained by contractors for the Federal government. Establish agency-specific recordkeeping practices, specifically establishing what records need to be created in order to conduct agency business. Identify parties within the agency with records management responsibilities, such as records officers or liaisons.

Typical Functions for Managing Records

The management and control of Federal records involves a number of actions taken with respect to individual records or series of records to ensure their authenticity, integrity and reliability, and to preserve their usability over time. The following is a list of some of the major functions most typically performed in the process of managing records. This list of functions may serve as a guide or checklist in defining requirements or specifications for an ERK or ERM system, or in seeking to improve an existing system, to assure that major functional requirements have been addressed.

  • DECLARE A RECORD: Recognize a record to be a record, identify it as as a record.
  • CAPTURE RECORDS: Include a record in a system that manages records.
    • ORGANIZE RECORDS: Group records according to a predefined structure to meet business needs.
    • MAINTAIN RECORDS SECURITY: Protect the integrity of records against unauthorized alteration or destruction.
    • MANAGE RECORDS ACCESS: Grant or limit the ability of individual(s) to examine records or record groupings.
    • FACILITATE RECORDS RETRIEVAL: Provide or enable the ability to collect records relevant to a query.
    • PRESERVE RECORDS: Ensure the physical state of records so they remain usable.
    • AUDIT/OVERSIGHT: Ensure compliance of agency recordkeeping practices with existing statutes and internal and external regulations.
    • DESTRUCTION: Eliminate from a system a group of records in compliance with the appropriate records retention schedule so that they cannot be accessed, retrieved or recovered.
    • TRANSFER: Change legal custody of agency records to NARA


Updated: April 25, 2019