Federal Records Management

Schedule Implementation


Each agency should implement its approved comprehensive records schedule by issuing it as a directive, training appropriate employees to use it, and carefully applying its provisions to both permanent and temporary records. The schedule should be reviewed at least annually and updated whenever necessary by following the procedures described in this chapter.

Preliminary Steps

Issuing the schedule as a directive indicates its mandatory nature. The published schedule should combine agency-specific disposition authorities and the relevant items from the General Records Schedule, along with instructions for retention and disposition of nonrecord materials. It should not contain any one-time authorities covering nonrecurring records. At the time the schedule is issued, it is essential to train those employees responsible for applying the schedule.

Before applying the schedule for the first time to an office's records, the agency should take these steps:

  • Review the office's functions
  • Consult a current inventory of the office's records
  • Match the records identified in the inventory with those described in the agency's schedule, and alert the records manager to any unscheduled records
  • Develop a file plan for each office. An office file plan is a document containing the identifying number, title or description, and disposition authority of files held in an office (Example of file plan template)

Before the schedule is applied in an office with an established records disposition program and a file plan, it is necessary to check the file plan against the schedule. The file plan should contain up-to-date and accurate disposition authorities and retention periods for all records and nonrecord materials maintained in the office.

General Guidelines

Unless the schedule specifies otherwise, disposition authorities apply retroactively to all existing records described in the schedule. Such records include those acquired by transfer of function within or between agencies, as long as there is no change in the nature, content, and functional importance of the record series or system.

In applying the schedule, the agency should take these actions:

  • Avoid filing unnecessary materials, such as extra copies in the same series
  • Cut off, or break, files regularly
  • Transfer eligible records to an agency storage facility or a Federal records center
  • Promptly destroy or properly donate temporary records when their retention periods expire
  • Care for permanent records until their timely transfer to the National Archives.

In the process the agency should review the schedule at least annually and update it, whenever necessary, by using new or revised GRS authorities or by submitting a Request for Records Disposition Authority (also known as a records schedule, or simply a schedule) to National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

Issuing the Schedule

Making the Schedule a Directive

Whether they are derived from the GRS or from an agency-specific schedule, NARA-approved records disposition authorities are mandatory. Except for one-time authorities covering nonrecurring records, all disposition authorities should be incorporated into the agency's directives system to ensure proper distribution and application of the schedule. The directive should cite the GRS or agency-specific schedule with item numbers for all schedule items covering records. It should also cite any agency and Privacy Act restrictions for each series or system of records authorized for eventual destruction. Before issuing this directive and related procedural directives, the agency may wish to consult with NARA.

If the agency has scheduled its records one office or one function at a time, it may issue each schedule as approved or wait until all its records and nonrecord materials are covered. All schedules issued should be consolidated into a comprehensive schedule. The schedule, or schedules, should be issued as a directive, reviewed at least annually, and updated whenever necessary.

Internal distribution of the directive should include at least the following:

  • All staff officials
  • All office, bureau, division, and branch heads
  • All custodians of major record holdings, such as central files
  • All records management liaison officers.

Including Related Program Information

Besides transmitting the schedules, the directive should include detailed information on the agency's records disposition program unless a related program directive already does so. The directive should include the following:

  • A statement of the program's objectives
  • Any necessary information from laws and regulations governing records disposition, including citations
  • A description of NARA's oversight responsibilities in records management, particularly records disposition
  • Definitions of relevant terms in a glossary
  • Provisions for proper training of all employees taking part in the agency's records disposition activities
  • Instructions on how to maintain and cut off files
  • A statement that the records schedule authorities must be applied to all relevant agency records on a continuing basis
  • Provisions for keeping records schedules current
  • Procedures for retiring records to, and retrieving them from, agency records centers or holding areas, if applicable, and NARA-operated records centers
  • Instructions on the disposal of temporary records in agency space and guidance on the NARA records center system of disposal notification
  • Instructions for transferring permanent records to the National Archives
  • An indication of the records officer's involvement in developing and monitoring electronic and other recordkeeping systems to ensure proper disposition
  • Provisions for periodic evaluation of the agency's records management program, including records disposition

Training Employees

When a new or revised comprehensive records schedule is issued, the agency needs to train those employees responsible for applying the schedule and carrying out other aspects of the records disposition program. Such employees include records management staff members (if not already trained), records liaison officers in central and field offices, and files custodians. This is also an ideal time to brief program managers regarding records disposition and other aspects of the records management program.

For general training, resources are available from NARA. Besides multiagency courses, NARA provides customized training to individual agencies on a reimbursable basis. Training opportunities are described on the NARA records management training web page.

Agencies should periodically brief employees and contractors on their records responsibilities, particularly those relating to records disposition. Training requirements are described in NARA Bulletin 2017-01.

Applying the Schedule to Permanent Records

Permanent records are those determined by NARA to have sufficient historical or other value to warrant continued preservation by the Federal Government, generally as part of the National Archives, unless otherwise agreed to by NARA. Their disposition authority comes primarily from NARA-approved disposition authorities. The agency must give special attention to these records and transfer them to the National Archives in accordance with the schedule's instructions and with regulations (36 CFR 1235) and guidance issued by NARA.

Caring for Permanent Records

Permanent records require special attention and should be scheduled for transfer to the legal custody of the National Archives as soon as the agency no longer needs them for current operations and the passage of time has lessened the sensitivity of the records. They should be created on archival-quality media and kept properly and in good order. For example, they should be stored in appropriate containers and facilities and not be intermixed with other permanent or temporary records.

To prevent their loss or destruction, the records officer should keep a current list of permanent records. The list should identify them by schedule item number and show locations, custodians, and any transfer instructions.

If permanent records are no longer needed in current office space but are not yet ready for scheduled transfer to the National Archives, they often can be stored in a records center or else in an agency holding area set aside exclusively for such records. If no such offsite storage is possible, they should at least be kept separate from the office's temporary records. Besides meeting general requirements for storing records properly, each agency must store its microform, audiovisual, and electronic records under conditions complying with the requirements of 36 CFR 1236, 1237, and 1238.

Permanent electronic records, for example, require special care and storage. Necessary steps include controlling temperature and humidity, recopying the information periodically, and testing the readability of an annual sample. Specific requirements are set forth in 36 CFR 1236.

Caring for permanent audiovisual records likewise requires special procedures. These include separating them from nonpermanent records; filing separately the master and use copies, such as negatives and prints; using captions or their equivalent for identification purposes; and recording unique identification numbers on every negative jacket or storage container as well as on all corresponding prints or other use copies. Specific requirements are set forth in 36 CFR 1237.

If an agency wishes to lend permanent or unscheduled records to a non-Federal user, it must first obtain NARA's written approval by submitting a letter of request that includes the information required by 36 CFR 1228. All formally executed loan agreements for such records must have the signature of the Archivist of the United States before their implementation. If the loan request is denied, the Archivist will notify the agency and provide written instructions for the disposition of the records.

Transferring Permanent Records to the National Archives

The agency's records schedule must contain instructions for transferring permanent records to the National Archives, including both timing (required) and blocking (if applicable) instructions. The transfer's timing should be based on the length of time after the records are cut off. It is normally within 30 years of the cutoff for paper and electronic records, within 5-10 years for audiovisual or microform records.

The schedule's blocking instructions are also important in the transfer of permanent records. Blocking means the chronological grouping of records consisting of one or more segments of cutoff records that belong to the same series and are dealt with as a unit for efficient transfer (e.g., transfer in 5-year blocks).

In addition to the schedule's instructions, the agency's disposition program directive should explain how to transfer permanent records to the National Archives.

Agencies may retain records for the conduct of regular agency business after they are eligible for transfer only with written approval from NARA. Permanent records may be transferred earlier if the agency no longer needs them and if any proposed restrictions on their use are acceptable to the National Archives.

While records stored in records centers remain in the transferring agency's legal custody, permanent records transferred to the National Archives pass to the legal custody of the Archivist of the United States. The form documenting the legal transfer of permanent records is the ERA Transfer Request (TR).  In using the TR to transfer permanent records to the National Archives, agencies must comply with NARA regulations and bulletins, including special requirements for electronic, audiovisual, and microform records. (See 36 CFR 1235, 1236, 1237, and 1238.)

If permanent records are stored in a NARA records center at the time of the scheduled transfer, the center's ARCIS system will automatically generate the TR for agency action. After the agency submits the TR and NARA approves it, the records will be transferred from records center space to a National Archives archival facility.

If the permanent records to be transferred are stored in agency space, the National Archives will contact the agency and provide shipping or delivery instructions. If the records are stored in a Federal records center, the National Archives will contact the records center and arrange for transfer. Legal custody of the records passes to NARA when NARA approves the TR to acknowledge receipt of the records or occasionally to confirm their deposit in another location as specified in a NARA-approved agreement.

For more details about accessioning records, see: Guidance and Policy for Accessioning Records to the National Archives in the Washington, DC Area.

Applying the Schedule to Temporary Records

Temporary records are those determined by NARA to be disposable, or nonpermanent. Either through an approved agency-specific schedule or the GRS, NARA approves them for destruction or occasionally for donation to an eligible person or organization.

NARA-approved retention periods for temporary records are normally mandatory, but exceptions may be made. In rare instances, certain individual files may have permanent value lacking in the other records found in a series or system scheduled as temporary. For example, if particular cases attract congressional and national media attention or lead to significant changes in policy or procedures, they may well deserve special consideration even if they are part of a series scheduled for disposal. If such a case comes to the agency's attention, the records officer should consult with the NARA appraisal archivist before submitting a schedule to cover the particular file that appears to warrant permanent retention. Normally, however, temporary records should be disposed of promptly in accordance with a NARA-approved records schedule.

Destruction of Temporary Records

Most temporary records are authorized for destruction when their retention periods expire. Methods of destruction include:

  • Sale or salvage of the record medium. This is the normal method unless quantities are too small, the market price is too low, or processing time is too great. Paper records are normally sold as wastepaper. The record medium of nonpaper records, such as audiovisual or electronic records, is normally salvaged for reuse or sale. Security-classified or otherwise restricted records require special procedures, including witnessed destruction. A Presidential Executive Order governs the destruction of security-classified documents. Specific laws (including the Privacy Act) and regulations govern the destruction of other restricted records. Any sale contract for unrestricted records must prohibit their resale as records or documents. Finally, all sales must comply with the procedures for the sale of surplus personal property. (See 41 CFR 109-45.)
  • Burning, pulping, shredding, macerating, or other suitable means authorized by 32 CFR 2001.47. These methods are used when the record medium cannot be advantageously sold or salvaged. (See 36 CFR 1226.24)

If temporary records are stored in a NARA records center when their retention periods expire, they are destroyed according to procedures set forth in NARA regulations (36 CFR 1233) and bulletins and publications.

Exceptions to Destruction of Temporary Records

Temporary records may be donated to an eligible person or organization, but only after the agency has obtained NARA's approval. (See 36 CFR 1226.26.) To obtain such approval, the agency needs to send NARA a letter of request with the following information:

  • The name of the department or agency and the units having custody of the records
  • The name and address of the proposed recipient of the records
  • A list identifying by series or system the records to be transferred, indicating their inclusive dates, and citing the NARA schedule number (e.g., DAA-0943-0012-0023) or GRS and item numbers authorizing disposal of the records
  • Evidence that (1) the proposed transfer is in the best interests of the Government, (2) the proposed recipient agrees not to sell the records, and (3) the transfer will cost the Government nothing
  • Certification that (1) the records contain no information whose disclosure is prohibited by law or contrary to the public interest, (2) any records donated to a person or business relate directly to the custody or operation of property acquired from the Government, and/or (3) any foreign government desiring the records has an official interest in them.

After reviewing the agency's request, NARA will determine whether the donation is in the public interest and will then notify the agency in writing of its approval or disapproval. If NARA disapproves, the agency must destroy the records in accordance with the proper disposal authority.

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