Federal Records Management

Resources - Publications: Disposition of Federal Records - Chapter 3

2000 Web Edition (of 1997 printed publication)

Disposition of Federal Records - Table of Contents

III. The Records Inventory

III.   The Records Inventory

  • The first step in scheduling records is to review the agency's functions and its recordkeeping requirements and practices.
  • The next step is to inventory the agency's records.
  • The inventory provides information needed to schedule records and helps identify various records management problems.
  • The inventory should focus primarily on program records in current office space and may be completed incrementally by function or organizational unit.
  • The inventory profiles each record series and system.
  • Electronic records should be inventoried by information system, rather than by series.
  • It is important to verify the inventory's results.


The process of developing a comprehensive records schedule for an agency begins with a review of the agency's functions and its recordkeeping requirements and practices. Next comes the inventory, which provides the information necessary to draft the schedule and make it comprehensive, clear, and current. Normally the agency makes a preliminary decision at this point to arrange the schedule by organization, function, or a combination of these.

Review of Agency Functions and Recordkeeping Requirements and Practices

A careful review of the agency's functions and its recordkeeping requirements and practices helps lay the groundwork for inventorying and other steps needed to schedule records.

Agency Functions

Before the inventory begins, it is necessary to review the agency's functions as reflected in its program responsibilities, structure, and levels of authority. Doing this involves examining pertinent documents, such as laws, regulations, organization charts, and functional statements, and consulting with program managers, ADP managers, and records personnel. This process is essential in identifying and locating important records within the agency. The following questions should be answered:

  • Which are the key line and staff offices?
  • What programs does the agency have?
  • What units are responsible for developing policies?
  • What is the nature of staff support activities?  Legal?  Fiscal and budgetary?  Inspection?  General management?  Administrative services?

Agency Recordkeeping Requirements and Practices

Before inventorying, it is also important to review the agency's recordkeeping requirements and practices. The following questions need to be answered:

  • What are the agency's recordkeeping requirements? (See Chapter I of this handbook for a discussion of such requirements.)
  • Have recordkeeping requirements been established for all electronic records systems and for all audiovisual and cartographic records?
  • Is there a prescribed agency-wide records maintenance system?  If so, how widely is it used?  If not, what systems are used?
  • Is there a prescribed classification system for general correspondence?  If so, is it numeric, subject-numeric, or some other system?
  • Is there a central file?  A uniform indexing system?  Does each operate as planned?  At what levels?  What records are not included?  Where are records likely to be that relate to important agency programs?
  • What agency policy and procedures, if any, govern vital records, adequacy of documentation, personal papers of officials, and Privacy Act and Freedom of Information Act concerns?

Inventorying: What, Why, and How

After reviewing its functions and recordkeeping requirements and practices, the agency is ready to gather information about the records by conducting an inventory. The remainder of this chapter explains the meaning, elements, scope, and verification of the inventory.

Definition and Purpose

In records management, an inventory is a descriptive listing of each record series or system, together with an indication of location and other pertinent data. It is not a list of each document or each folder but rather of each series or system. Its main purpose is to provide the information needed to develop the schedule. It also helps identify various records management problems. These include inadequate documentation of official actions, improper applications of recordkeeping technology, deficient filing systems and maintenance practices, poor management of nonrecord materials, insufficient identification of vital records, and inadequate records security practices. When completed, the inventory should include all offices, all records, and all nonrecord materials. An inventory that is incomplete or haphazard can only result in an inadequate schedule and loss of control over records.

Link With the Schedule

The schedule is the heart of an effective records disposition program, and it is based on information gathered during the inventory process. The more systematic and complete the inventory, the better the schedule is likely to be. Scheduling records involves the steps described in Chapter II of this handbook.

Inventorying is useful not only in developing the schedule but also in ensuring that it is applied properly and kept up-to-date. Regardless of the agency's size, the inventory can help make the schedule:

  • Comprehensive: Designed to cover simultaneously or incrementally all records and nonrecord materials of the agency's organizational and functional components.
  • Clear: Containing accurate descriptions and easily understood disposition instructions.
  • Current: Reflecting periodic updating to include any new or revised series or systems, authorized revisions to disposition instructions, and any changes in the General Records Schedules.

Record Series and Information System Concepts

The record series concept is a convenient way of grouping file units or documents to permit their management as a group. The unit to be inventoried and scheduled is normally the record series, not individual documents or file folders. A series is a group of records arranged according to a filing system or kept together because they relate to a particular subject or function, result from the same activity, document a specific kind of transaction, take a particular physical form, or have some other relationship arising out of their creation, receipt, or use, such as restrictions on access and use.

For example, a group of contract files in a procurement office would constitute one series and thus an inventory item. Other series in that office might include general correspondence, procurement reports from regional offices, and a file on individual employees.

The concept of the records series is applicable to nontextual as well as textual records. Thus, a "collection" of motion pictures, photographs, sound recordings, data tapes, etc., constitutes a series, if the collection is organized in accordance with a single filing system, or has been brought together and maintained as a unit for the reasons already mentioned.

Frequently, each of the above types of nontextual records may constitute more than one series, or a series may include mixed media. The records custodians should be consulted in determining the number of separate series involved. If necessary, the records themselves should be examined. In no event should all photographs, magnetic tapes, or other types of nontextual records be arbitrarily grouped together as a single series in the inventory or as a single entry in the draft schedules.

When a series of paper records has been microfilmed or converted to electronic form, the result in each case is not one but two series that should be separately inventoried and scheduled. However, the relationship between the two series should be carefully defined.

The record series is the unit used in identifying and scheduling most records. Electronic records, however, are best inventoried and scheduled in the context of an information system. An information system is the organized collection, processing, transmission, and dissemination of information according to defined procedures. It includes three categories of information: (1) inputs, (2) the information on the electronic media, and (3) outputs. Along with these categories of recorded information, the agency should inventory and schedule any related indexes and also the documentation needed to maintain and use the electronic records.

Steps in Inventorying Records

It is useful at this point to gain an overview of how to inventory records. The steps in this process are as follows:

  • Define the inventory's goals. The paramount goal is gathering information for scheduling purposes, but other goals may include preparing for conversion to other media, or identifying particular records management problems such as those already mentioned.
  • Define the scope of the inventory; it should include all records and all nonrecord materials.
  • Obtain top management's support, preferably in the form of a directive, and keep management and staff informed at every stage of the inventory.
  • Decide on the information to be collected (the elements of the inventory).
  • Prepare an inventory form, or use an existing one.
  • Decide who will conduct the inventory, and train them if necessary.
  • Learn where the agency's files are located, both physically and organizationally.
  • Conduct the inventory.
  • Verify and analyze the results.

All nonrecord materials should be included in the inventory. These materials should be located, described, and evaluated in terms of use. Retention periods should be assigned to them, and this information should be included in the final version of the published schedule or in the agency's disposition manual.

Inventorying: Scope, Focus, and Responsibility

Besides defining the inventory's goals and obtaining and retaining top management's support, the agency needs to decide on the inventory's scope and focus and determine who will be responsible for conducting the inventory.

Scope and Focus

In establishing a records disposition program, each agency should complete an inventory of all records in its legal custody, regardless of their location or physical form. Besides paper records, the inventory must include electronic, audiovisual, microform, and other records, especially those stored offsite in laboratories and other locations. The inventory should also note collections of nonrecord materials to permit their proper management.

The inventory process should begin with current records in office space and concentrate on the program records maintained there; that is, on those records documenting the unique, substantive functions for which an agency or office is responsible. Less detailed attention can be given to administrative, or housekeeping, records held in many or all offices that are already described and scheduled in the General Records Schedules (GRS). When describing program records, special attention should be given to those records likely to be proposed for permanent retention.

An agency establishing a disposition program need not conduct the inventory simultaneously in all locations or complete all of it before beginning the scheduling process. Instead it may inventory and schedule records incrementally, that is, office by office or function by function, until all are covered.

An agency with an established disposition program should conduct an inventory if it begins a new program or undergoes a reorganization affecting program responsibilities. It should also use the inventory to identify records management problems, including any inadequacies in the schedule or its application.

Inventorying and the Schedule's Arrangement

Planning the inventory's scope and focus normally includes consideration of the records schedule's arrangement. The schedule can be arranged by organization, function, or a combination of these. Since the schedule's arrangement will affect how to inventory the agency's records, it is advisable to make at least a preliminary decision on the matter at this time. The final decision should be made by the time the draft schedule is ready to be assembled. (See chapter V for details.)

Responsibility for the Inventory

Normally records officers or experienced staff members conduct the inventory because they are best equipped to understand the project's purposes and the concepts involved. However, when speed is essential or when the volume of records is unusually large, other agency personnel may be asked to do the job. In that case, careful training will be necessary.

The Series Inventory

Except for electronic records, agency records are most suitably inventoried by series. (See guidance later in this chapter on inventorying electronic records by information system.) Whoever conducts the inventory should decide what inventory elements are necessary and then use a form, or forms, to collect the same information on each series. (See figure 3-1 and figure 3-2 for suggested series inventory forms.)

Series Inventory Elements

To be useful, an inventory needs to include certain elements of information for each series. These essential elements are described in the following sections. Although some elements are useful only for agency purposes (e.g., date prepared and identification of person conducting inventory), most are needed to provide information to NARA for scheduling records through the submission of an SF 115, Request for Records Disposition Authority. As indicated, NARA requires more complete information on records proposed for permanent retention than for those proposed for disposal. If an agency proposes for disposal records that NARA later determines to be potentially permanent, it must then change the proposed disposition to permanent and give NARA the necessary additional information.

The series inventory elements, with related instructions, are as follows (see figure 3-1):

1. Date prepared
List the date the inventory was prepared.

2. Office maintaining the files
List the name and symbol of the office maintaining the records. If this office received this series from another office, also indicate the name and symbol of that office and designate it as the "creating office."

3. Person conducting the inventory
List that person's name, office, and telephone number.

4. Series location
Give the precise location of the series; for example, room 233, building B, annex 1. If the series is located in more than one office, it is only necessary to inventory once and then indicate multiple locations.

5. Series title
Give each series a title for brief reference. Such a title can come from one of several sources:

  • The agency, which may be using a generally accepted title in its normal day-to-day procedures. Examples: employee locator file, project progress report.
  • The person who conducts the inventory and who can supply a descriptive title. Ex amples: property control records, meeting transcripts file, loan analysis file.
  • The title of a single form or type of document if it applies to the entire series. Examples: bills of lading, notifications of personnel action, narrative quarterly reports.

6. Inclusive dates
List the earliest and latest dates of the records in each series. This information supplements or is a part of the description and is needed to schedule records proposed for permanent retention. It is also needed to determine when to cut off, or break, records and transfer them to records centers or agency storage facilities. Finally, it can provide a clue to the rate of growth of the series. For case files or correspondence files, express the earliest date as the year only. For series being created at the time of the inventory, indicate the latest date by the designation "to date" or "to present."

NARA requires agencies to give inclusive dates for records proposed for permanent retention and also for nonrecurring records proposed for immediate destruction.

7. Series description
A clear description of the series is basic to the success of the inventory and the schedule. It is necessary for NARA's later appraisal of the records. It may also be needed to clarify the series title. Examples of such language are:

  • "Case files of internal audits of agency programs, operations, and procedures, and of external audits of contractors and grantees. Consist of audit reports, correspondence, and supporting working papers."
  • "Records relating to the office's internal administrative, or housekeeping, activities rather than the functions for which the office exists. Include records on office organization, staffing, procedures, and communications; the expenditure of funds, including budget files; day-to-day administration of office personnel, including training and travel; supplies and office services and equipment requests and receipts; and the use of office space and utilities. May also include the office's copies of internal activity and workload reports, such as work progress, statistical, and narrative reports forwarded to higher levels."
  • "Photographs of routine award ceremonies, social events, and other nonprogram activities."
  • "Requests from the public for forms and publications."
  • "Record set of formal directives distributed as orders, circulars, or manuals, announcing major changes in the agency's policies and procedures, and relating to program functions."
  • "Correspondence on Division matters prepared for the Director's signature, and related documents."
  • "Case files of grants to individual institutes for the funding of research related to mining and mineral resources. Include pre-proposals, proposals or applications, patent information, project reports, studies, certificates, agreements, memorandums, letters, and other records relating to the receipt, review, award, evaluation, status, and monitoring of grants along with the allocation of funds and project budgets."
  • "Record set of Newsclippings and Analysis Service publications, such as Current News, Supplemental Clips, Equal Opportunity Current News, Radio-TV Defense Dialog, Selected Statements, Foreign Media Edition of Current News, and Friday Review of Defense Literature."
  • "Information showing Government employment, private employment, and financial interests of civilian employees and military personnel required to file such statements under AR 600-50. Included are statements of employment and financial interests, supplementary statements, reports of change, review comments, and related information."

Inventory items should not emphasize form numbers, especially when case files, or transaction files, are being described. Such files, which consist of numerous forms and related correspondence, constitute the bulk of all Federal records. Examples include contract files, claims files, loan files, clinical files, and personnel files.

Figure 2-1 in Chapter II shows how each copy of a completed form can become part of a separate case file serving a unique purpose. In the inventory, each copy loses its individuality and is covered in the item describing the case file of which it is a part. The person taking the inventory should:

  • Select a title describing the function served by the series.
  • Sample the contents of a few folders in the series to determine the general kind of documentation in it and the range of subject content.
  • Determine whether or not a typical file documents the case from beginning to end. For example, in a contract file, the folder may or may not cover the procurement process from successful bid to final payment. If not, supplementary documentation needs to be located and its relationship to the series indicated in the schedule.

It is permissible to combine into a single inventory item a number of very small series of temporary records if they serve the same function and are proposed for the same retention period. For example, separate series relating to an office's housekeeping, or internal administrative, activities may be merged into a single item called office administrative files. However, each series of potentially permanent records must be described and scheduled separately. (See Appendix C for permanent records appraisal guidelines.)

Each series description should contain enough information to show the purpose, use, and subject content of the records. Avoid terms, such as "miscellaneous" or "various," that add nothing to the description. Give special attention to describing potentially permanent records, because NARA requires more detailed information on them. Include in the description of audiovisual records the format (e.g., 4 by 5 inches, 16 mm, one-half inch), generation, and subjects.

Finally, it is important to describe the various components of audiovisual, microform, cartographic, and related records. For example, a central laboratory often maintains photographic negatives, while different agency units maintain specialized series or collections of prints. Both the negatives and the prints are record components and need to be inventoried and scheduled, along with related finding aids.

8. Medium
Indicate whether the record medium is paper, microform, electronic, audiovisual, or a combination of these. For electronic records, see the information system inventory described later in this chapter. For audiovisual records, see figure 3-2.

9. Arrangement
Indicate the arrangement, or filing system, used. Examples include subject classification systems and arrangements that are alphabetical by subject, alphabetical by name of claimant, geographical by state, numerical by contract number, and chronological by date of report. If the series has no apparent arrangement, then mark it "unarranged." If there are subordinate patterns of arrangement within the series, list them also. NARA requires agencies to indicate the arrangement of records proposed for permanent retention but not for those proposed for disposal.

10. Volume
Express the volume of records in cubic feet rather than in linear feet or any other medium of measurement. Since it represents height, width, and depth, a cubic foot figure provides a realistic idea of the amount of space actually occupied. Also include the volume of older records, which may be wrapped in bundles or packages, or of oversized materials, which are too large to be stored in conventional filing equipment. (To calculate the contents of file containers in cubic feet, use the conversion table appearing in figure 3-1b.)

Although volume information is important, the figure for each series need not be measured with extreme accuracy. In calculating the volume of a series, do not include fractions, such as one-half inch, but simply round all figures to the nearest cubic foot. If the series totals less than half a cubic foot, list the volume as "negligible" or "less than one."

Precise accuracy is not needed in gauging the volume of any series that is obviously large. Simply sample the file drawers to see if they are relatively full, and then multiply the number of full file drawers by the pertinent conversion ratio. For those records not stored in filing equipment, estimate the number of file drawers the records would occupy, and then apply the appropriate conversion ratio.

When inventorying audiovisual, microform, cartographic, and related records, provide not only total cubic footage but also an item count (e.g., 1200 prints, 3500 negatives) that is as accurate as possible. Again sampling may be necessary for large series or collections. If so, multiply the average number of items in a cubic foot (or some other measure) by the total number of cubic feet (or other measure) in the collection.

NARA requires agencies to give volume figures for records proposed for permanent retention and also for nonrecurring records proposed for immediate destruction.

11. Annual accumulation
Based on information from the files custodian, estimate the annual rate of accumulation for each series if the records are current and continuing. NARA requires agencies to furnish the rate of accumulation of such records proposed for permanent retention but not those proposed for disposal. If the records no longer accumulate, indicate "none."

12. Cutoff
Indicate how often the records are cut off and when the last cutoff occurred. If they are not cut off, explain how inactive records are separated from active ones. To cut off records means to break, or end, them at regular intervals to permit their disposal or transfer in complete blocks and, for correspondence files, to permit the establishment of new files. (See Chapter II and Chapter V for further details.)

13. Reference activity
Rate the reference activity of a paper record series, after the regular cutoff, by placing it in one of three categories:

  • Current, or active (used more than once a month per file drawer).
  • Semicurrent, or semiactive (used less than once a month per file drawer).
  • Noncurrent, or inactive (not used for current operations).

Information on reference activity, or frequency of use, is especially important for paper records because it affects the timing and type of disposition, particularly in reference to offsite storage. For example, if voluminous records are still current, or active, keep them in office space rather than transferring them to a records center. Transfer semicurrent, or semiactive, records to a records center, if other conditions are met, to await the final disposition prescribed by a NARA-approved records schedule.

Reference information may also influence changes in filing practices if only one part of a series is active. It may even reveal some unnecessary searches.

Since most series of paper records are relatively small in volume, accumulating less than 5 or 6 cubic feet per year, their reference figures will be less precise. For voluminous series of paper records, ask the files custodian to survey reference activity. The survey should contain information on the number of requests for a fixed period, not to exceed 3 months; the organizational source of the requests, including sources outside the agency; the purpose of the requests; and the age of the records requested. When such precise survey information is unnecessary, use code words to indicate reference activity: current, semicurrent, and noncurrent.

For audiovisual records, specify the number of requests for copies per month, the source(s) of the requests, and the reason for the requests.

14. Vital records status
If the records qualify as vital records, specify whether they are emergency-operating records, legal and financial rights records, or both. Also indicate whether they are the originals or duplicates. (See 36 CFR 1236 for requirements in managing vital records.)

15. Duplication
Indicate duplication in form or content. It can exist in the following ways:

  • Carbon or other copies may be in the same organizational unit or elsewhere in the agency. The copies may contain significant differences or notations.
  • Similar data or information may be available elsewhere in the agency, either physically duplicated or in summarized form.

If the duplication is only partial, state its extent. If the information is recorded on both electronic and paper media, both must be inventoried and scheduled as parts of an information system. To study duplication in content, examine the agency's paper and information flow. Detailed reports of subordinate or field offices are usually summarized at higher levels. Understanding the reporting system is basic to recognizing the nature and extent of duplication.

16. Finding aids
Note the existence of any finding aids for the series, especially if the records are to be proposed for permanent retention. Finding aids identify the contents of particular series so that users can locate individual documents, file units, or other parts of the series. They may include indexes, document lists, lists of file headings or containers, and classification or filing manuals. If they cover more than one series, note that fact. If the finding aids are not in the same office or area as the related series, indicate their location.

17. Restrictions on access and use
Note any restrictions on access to, and use of, the particular series. Such restrictions may result from statutes, executive orders, or agency directives. The two most common types of restrictions are:

  • Personal Privacy. These files are restricted because they contain information about individuals whose privacy would be violated if the information were made known to others. Examples are tax returns, medical records, and some personnel investigative files.
  • National Security. These files bear classification markings, such as "top secret," "secret," or "confidential." They do so because their release, or the release of information in them, to unauthorized persons might harm national security.

Executive orders govern national security classification policies and procedures. The intelligence agencies classify many of their files under special statutory and executive authority. In dealing with access and restriction matters, also comply with the Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. 552) and the Privacy Act (5 U.S.C. 552a), as amended. Whenever necessary, consult with the agency officials responsible for such matters.

NARA requires agencies to indicate any Privacy Act restrictions on records proposed for eventual destruction and any Freedom of Information Act restrictions on records proposed for immediate transfer to the National Archives.

18. Condition of permanent records
During the inventory, take note of the physical condition of records that are actually or potentially permanent, especially those stored offsite. Identify threats to their preservation and security and take appropriate corrective action. Threats include overhead water pipes, electrical equipment, excessive heat and/or humidity, vermin, and inadequate security.

19. Disposition authority
If the series has an approved disposition authority, list the schedule and item number and then the retention period. If the series has no such authority, list the files as "unscheduled," make sure they are preserved, and ask the program office to recommend a suitable retention period.

Series Inventory Forms

In conducting the inventory, the records manager should use a form or forms. Doing so makes it easier to analyze the information and avoids its loss or fragmentation. The agency may wish to prepare its own form or select an existing form. figure 3-1 is a suggested form for collecting information about a record series. The form in figure 3-2 may be used to inventory audiovisual records. The NARA publication Managing Audiovisual Records contains further guidance on inventorying such records.

- Figure 3-1a. Series Inventory Form
- Figure 3-1b. Series Inventory Form - Back

- Figure 3-2a. Audiovisual Records Series Inventory Form
- Figure 3-2b. Audiovisual Records Series Inventory Form - Back

The Information System Inventory

Electronic records are most effectively and conveniently inventoried and scheduled in the context of information systems. As indicated earlier, an information system is the organized collection, processing, transmission, and dissemination of information according to defined procedures. It includes three categories of information: (1) inputs, (2) the information on the electronic media, and (3) outputs. Along with these categories of recorded information, the agency should inventory and schedule any related indexes and also the documentation needed to maintain and use the electronic records.

Elements of the Information System Inventory

Each agency should maintain a complete and accurate inventory of all its electronic records systems to meet its own needs and to comply with NARA regulations ( 36 CFR 1234). This inventory should include the elements indicated below. The form in figure 3-3 may be used to collect some of this information. The elements listed below with italicized titles are those NARA requires to make an initial appraisal of the information system.

1. Name of the system. Indicate the commonly used name and acronym of the system. For example, the Grain Monitoring System (GMS) or the State Energy Data System (SEDS).

2. System control number. Specify the internal control number assigned to the system for reference, control, or cataloging purposes. For example, the information system inventory number or the ADP plan control number.

3. Agency program supported by the system. Show the agency program(s) or mission(s) to which the system relates, and cite any authorizing laws or directives. Also list the names, office addresses, telephone numbers, and locations of program personnel who can provide additional information about the program and the system supporting it.

4. Purpose of the system. Indicate the reasons for the system and the requirements it meets.

5. Data input and sources. Describe the primary data input sources and the providers of the data to the system. For example, broadcast license holders or corporations doing business in the United States. Indicate the form numbers of any agency forms used as input sources. Also give the names of any other systems, either inside or outside the agency, from which this information system receives data.

6. Major outputs. Show the system's main products and the frequency of their preparation. For example, reports, tables, charts, graphic displays, catalogs, or correspondence prepared weekly, monthly, or yearly. Also indicate whether the information is transferred to other systems.

7. Information content. Indicate what persons, places, or things are the subjects of the records in the system and what information is maintained on those subjects. Also indicate timespan, geographic coverage, update cycle, and other major characteristics of the system. Finally, tell whether the system saves superseded information and whether it contains microdata or summary data.

8. Hardware/software environment. Indicate the computer system manipulating this information and the software used. For example, IBM 38XX, COBOL application programs; DEC VAX 780, BASIS DBMS.

9. System managers. List the name, office, telephone number, and location of the system manager or other system personnel who can provide more information about the system and the program it supports.

10. Location of documentation needed to read and understand the files. Show where the codebooks and file layouts are maintained. Indicate the office, room number, and name of the person having custody of them.

11. Restrictions on access and use. Indicate national security, privacy, or other restrictions. Cite any Privacy Act restrictions on records proposed for eventual destruction and any Freedom of Information Act restrictions on records proposed for immediate transfer to the National Archives.

12. Authorized disposition of the information as determined by the General Records Schedules or a NARA-approved SF 115. For example, "Permanent." If not covered by a schedule, then indicate "Unscheduled" and recommend a disposition.

13. Disposition authority citation. Cite any records schedule and item number(s) covering the records contained in this system. Include any NARA-approved records schedule(s) and item number(s) authorizing disposition of system components, such as input forms, printouts, COM, and output reports. If there are no such citations, indicate "None."

14. Location and volume of any storage media containing identical information. Show the location of any magnetic tapes or disks containing information identical to that in the system being inventoried. Also indicate the number of tapes and/or disks and their storage capacity.

15. Identification of the person conducting the inventory. List that person's name, office, telephone number, and location.

16. Date prepared. List the date the inventory was prepared.

- Figure 3-3a. Information System Description Form
- Figure 3-3b. Information System Description Form - Back

Description Sources for Information Systems

An agency normally already has existing descriptions of each electronic information system. These descriptions may be found in one or more of the following places:

IRM office. This office will have an inventory of the agency's major information systems or will know which organizational component has it. The IRM office may also maintain the agency's current master ADP plan, which may contain management overviews of the systems and identify the program office(s) supported by the information in the system.

Agency clearance officer. If an agency collects information from the public, its clearance officer, sometimes assigned to the IRM office, will have documentation on requests for OMB clearance. This documentation will include the information's purpose, the legal authority for collecting it, the part of the public affected, the program officer's name, and the office originating the request. It may also include a justification of the system and a description of its inputs and outputs as well as its intended use.

Interagency liaison officer. Sometimes assigned to the reports control office, this person should maintain a file of applications to GSA for collecting information from other Federal agencies. This file has the same type of information as that maintained by the agency clearance officer.

Privacy Act coordinator. This person is responsible for publishing annual notices on systems of records containing information retrievable by personal identifiers. The systems may be either manual or electronic. The notices include the name of the system of records, the categories of individuals on whom records are kept, the use(s) made of the information, policies affecting the records, and the office responsible for the system.

ADP facility. In most agencies with advanced computer applications, persons in the ADP facility will know which program activities are using ADP resources, what their purposes are, and perhaps which files are associated with those offices.

Records schedule. Any references in the agency schedule to computer printouts or computer input documents usually indicate the existence of an electronic information system.

Public information office. If an agency sells copies of computer files or statistical abstracts to the public, its public information office may have a catalog describing them. These public use files are outputs of an information system.

National Technical Information Service (NTIS), Department of Commerce. If an agency does not distribute computer files directly to the public, it may do so through NTIS. Files available from NTIS are outputs of agency information systems.

Other sources, such as the FOIA coordinator, the agency librarian, the agency historian, and program officers.

For further guidance, the agency records officer should contact the appropriate NARA appraisal archivist.


Once the records have been inventoried, the records manager needs to assess the quality of the inventory's results. If the records are nonelectronic, the results should be spot-checked for obvious errors, such as failing to indicate the location of the records inventoried, exaggerating their volume, and intermixing two or more potentially permanent series or two or more temporary series having potentially varying retention periods. If someone else has prepared the inventory, the records manager should physically examine some of the records inventoried to confirm the accuracy of the information recorded on the inventory form.

If electronic records are involved, the results should also be checked for obvious errors, such as failing to indicate inputs and outputs. If someone else conducted the information system inventory, the records manager should schedule some office visits to ask for confirmation and also sample printouts if these have not already been provided.

Regardless of whether or not the records are electronic, the records manager should verify more thoroughly and even reinventory the records when spot checks reveal serious and frequent problems with the comprehensiveness and accuracy of the original inventory.


The scheduling process begins with a review of agency functions and recordkeeping requirements and practices. It continues with an inventory of agency records. The inventory provides the information needed to develop a schedule as well as to identify various records management problems. While nonelectronic records are normally inventoried by series, electronic records are best inventoried in the context of an information system.

After the inventory is completed and verified, the next steps are to evaluate the records for disposition and to draft recommended disposition instructions. Analyzing the inventory's results is treated in the next chapter as part of the process of evaluating the records.

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