Federal Records Management

Agency Records Disposition Programs


A records disposition program may be defined as those policies and practices designed to achieve effective and efficient disposition by: scheduling all records; ensuring their proper storage, whether in agency or record center storage space; ensuring the authorized and prompt disposal of temporary records; and ensuring the timely transfer of permanent records to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

Elements of the Program

The primary steps in managing a records disposition program are described below. These steps make up the elements of the program:

  • Issue a program directive assigning authorities and responsibilities for records disposition activities in the agency, and keep that directive up to date
  • Develop, implement, and update a comprehensive records schedule
  • Train all those taking part in the agency's records disposition activities
  • Publicize the program to make all agency employees aware of their records disposition responsibilities
  • Evaluate the results of the program to ensure adequacy, effectiveness, and efficiency.

Basic Objectives

A records disposition program provides for the effective and efficient management of records no longer needed in office space to conduct current business. It has three main objectives: the prompt disposal of temporary records whose authorized retention periods have expired; the timely and systematic transfer to economical storage of records no longer needed in office space but not yet eligible for final disposition; and the identification and transfer of permanent records to NARA for preservation and for reference and research use.

In carrying out a records disposition program, each agency is responsible for recommending to NARA retention periods for potentially temporary records and suitable transfer dates for potentially permanent records. The agency also needs to determine where the records should be kept as they await disposal or transfer to NARA -- in the office, in an agency storage facility, or in a commercial or NARA record center.

Program Directive

To establish an effective records disposition program, the agency head must issue a strongly worded directive making the program an integral part of the agency's records and information management program (36 CFR 1220.34c). Issuing this directive emphasizes the agency's commitment to the authorized, timely, and orderly disposition of records. It allows the agency to issue the proper delegations of authority, establish staffing patterns, and approve procedures. The sections that follow provide details about the directive and its contents.

Organizational Placement

The organizational placement of the records disposition program will influence its effectiveness. In deciding where to place the program, the agency should recognize it as an important management function and understand the need to relate it to other records and information management programs.

Program Responsibility and Objectives

The directive should designate the agency records officer as the official responsible for the program. It should permit delegation of authority to involve all parts of the agency in the program. The most important part of the directive states these program aims and duties:

  • To enable agency managers to make informed decisions
  • To establish effective controls over all records and nonrecord materials in the agency's custody
  • To prepare, obtain approval of, and apply an up-to-date comprehensive schedule for all agency records and nonrecord materials
  • To participate in the development of electronic and other recordkeeping systems to ensure proper disposition
  • To assist and advise agency officials regarding records disposition matters
  • To act as a liaison with NARA for program direction
  • To recruit and train the staff necessary to carry out the program
  • To evaluate the program's results to ensure adequacy, effectiveness, and efficiency.

Staffing and Liaison

The directive should provide for an adequate network of personnel at major headquarters offices and at field offices to carry on records disposition work under the agency records officer's direction. The number of people in this liaison group depends on the size of the agency and its organizational complexity.

Smaller agencies may find that records officers need to directly conduct disposition activities. In a larger agency, the complexity and volume of records often require assigning some people full-time to the disposition function.

The Role of Outside Agencies

The directive should indicate NARA's role in the disposition program. It should identify NARA as the oversight agency responsible for appraising all Federal records, approving their disposition (36 CFR 1220.10), providing program assistance and records center storage, evaluating records management programs, and serving as the final custodian of permanent records (36 CFR 1235.10). Finally, if the directive covers the entire records management program, it should also indicate the responsibilities of GSA, OMB, and other oversight agencies.

Program Promotion

In working to develop and apply a comprehensive records schedule, the agency needs to promote and evaluate the overall records disposition program. Program promotion involves training employees, publicizing the program, helping develop and monitor electronic and other recordkeeping systems, and cultivating professional relationships inside and outside the agency.


Proper training is an essential part of a records disposition program. Training should involve those agency personnel directly concerned with developing and applying schedules. These individuals include the agency records officer and staff, records liaison officers in central and field offices, and files custodians.

NARA's records management curriculum provides a basis for internal agency training. In addition, records officers and their staffs can keep current by participating in more advanced training offered by NARA. These and other training opportunities are described on the NARA Records Management Programs 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.  Audiovisual recordings of training and briefing sessions may also be useful, especially for remote locations or regional offices.

Developing and Monitoring Recordkeeping Systems

Agency records officers should participate in the design and development of recordkeeping systems to ensure the proper disposition of recorded information. Such involvement is especially important in the design of electronic records systems, since the integration of records management functions into the system is required (36 CFR 1220.34e). Agencies should consult OMB Circular No. A-130 (Managing Information as a Strategic Resource), early in the system development phase.

The uncontrolled purchase of recordkeeping equipment can waste money and undermine the entire records disposition program. Records officers should review requests for major purchases of such equipment to ensure that the records are scheduled and the disposition instructions are being carried out promptly.

Cultivating Professional Relationships

Records officers need to develop and maintain good professional relationships both inside and outside the agency in order to advance records disposition and other aspects of records management. They should develop and maintain such relationships with:

  • Records liaison officers. An active network of such officers, both at headquarters and in the field, is essential to the success of the agency's records disposition program. As those responsible for coordinating records matters in particular offices, records liaison officers provide the agency's records officer with much of the information and support needed to develop and implement the program.
  • Agency program managers. Involving them is essential to the disposition program's success. They should be consulted to determine the value of the records to the agency and to identify other users and uses of the information. Their involvement will help ensure that records officers participate in the development of new information systems. Assisting these managers in disposition and other records management matters can open doors to cooperation. Furthermore, the records disposition program offers program managers an important service. It provides the disposition authorities required to preserve the information they need to do their jobs well and to dispose of information when it is no longer needed.
  • Designers and managers of electronic records systems. Because of the growth of such systems, records officers should give special attention to helping design and develop these systems to ensure adequate documentation and especially proper disposition of recorded information.
  • Agency historians. Records officers should assist agency historians and consult with them in the process of ensuring adequate documentation and identifying records with potentially permanent value.
  • Records managers outside the agency. Forming a network of contacts outside the agency can be useful. Attending meetings sponsored by NARA and professional societies, for example, can lead to a sharing of information and ideas about records management problems and possible solutions. Information about NARA events is available online.
  • NARA staff members. NARA staff members are a key resource as agencies develop or improve their records disposition programs. Besides approving mandatory disposition authorities, NARA provides services such as information, training, and record center storage. It also takes legal custody of permanent records once their agency use has ended.

Program Evaluation

Good management necessarily involves evaluating a program's results to make improvements such as shorter retention periods for temporary records, more timely disposal or transfer of eligible records, and better relations with other agency managers and NARA.  NARA created the Records and Information Management Self-Evaluation Guide to assist agencies in making a preliminary assessment of the status of records and information management programs and aid in identifying major problems and setting priorities for program improvements.

Besides reviewing its records schedule annually, each agency is required to evaluate periodically its records management programs, including records disposition, for compliance with relevant laws and regulations and for effectiveness (36 CFR 1220.34j). Likewise, in its oversight role, NARA periodically conducts single agency and interagency evaluations for the same purposes (36 CFR 1239, subpart C).

More information about NARA's Oversight and Reporting Program, including access to reports

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