Federal Records Management

Records Disposition Overview

Disposition is an integral part of records management and is the third and final stage of the life cycle of records. According to the life cycle concept, records go through three basic stages:

  1. creation (or receipt),
  2. maintenance and use, and
  3. disposition.

All three stages of the records life cycle are interrelated. Thus an agency must coordinate its programs to manage records creation, maintenance and use, and disposition so that each program supports the others.

In Federal usage, records are referred to, depending on the stage they have reached in their life cycle, as "current," "semicurrent," or "noncurrent." These terms refer not to the date or age of the records, but rather to their use in the current daily work of the office.

Disposition means those actions taken regarding Federal records after they are no longer needed in office space to conduct current agency business. These actions include:

  • Transfer of records to agency storage facilities or NARA records centers.
  • Transfer of records from one Federal agency to another.
  • Transfer of permanent records to the National Archives of the United States.
  • Disposal of temporary records no longer needed to conduct agency business, usually by destruction or occasionally by donation.

Disposition is a comprehensive term that includes destruction as well as other actions, such as the transfer of permanent records to the National Archives. After appraising agency records, NARA authorizes either their disposal or their transfer to the National Archives for preservation and research. Agencies must also receive NARA's approval before lending records outside the Federal Government, before retiring them to NARA-operated record centers, and before transferring them to other Federal agencies, unless exceptions have been granted. Finally, they must receive NARA's approval before establishing or relocating their records centers and before converting permanent or unscheduled originals to microfilm.

In contrast to disposition, "disposal" in Federal usage refers to only those final actions taken regarding temporary records after their retention periods expire. It normally means destruction of the record content, such as by recycling or burning the record medium. The term is also used occasionally to mean the transfer of temporary records from Federal control by donating them to an eligible person or organization after receiving NARA's approval.

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