Federal Records Management

File 11: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

(version 4.0 issued February 24, 2017)

1. Q: What is a Records Center?

A: As defined in 44 USC 2901(6) and 36 CFR 1220.18 a Records Center is any “establishment maintained and operated by the Archivist [of the United States] or by another Federal agency primarily for the storage, servicing, security, and processing of records which need to be preserved for varying periods of time and need not be retained in office equipment or space.”

2. Q: Is there a difference between a Records Center and a Records Storage Facility?

A: Yes. A "records center" is operated by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) or another Federal agency. A "records storage facility" is a broader term that includes both NARA and agency-operated records centers and facilities operated by commercial records storage providers. All must meet the same facility standards, but there are different processes for agencies to obtain NARA approval to use a facility.

3. Q: What is a compliant Records Storage Facility?

A: A records storage facility is “compliant” when

  • It meets all of the standards in 36 CFR 1234.10 – 1234.14 (formerly numbered 1228.228 – 1228.232) or has a NARA-approved waiver from one or more specific standards in those sections AND
  • The agency has met the reporting requirements of 36 CFR 1234.30 (formerly 1228.240).

4. Q: Where do I find the standards that are incorporated into 36 CFR 1234 (formerly numbered 1228, subpart K)?

A: 36 CFR section 1234.3 (formerly 1228.224) lists where you can obtain the standards that are cited in 36 CFR 1234.

5. Q: I don’t understand all the items listed in the Facility Standards for Records Storage Facilities Inspection Checklists. Can the checklists be completed by a commercial vendor but verified/certified by an agency records officer?

A: Yes. The checklists can be completed by a commercial vendor, however, it is ultimately the responsibility of the agency records officer to verify/certify that the information is correct and that the facility meets the standards of 36 CFR 1234. If the records officer needs assistance in making that determination, or in completing the checklists himself or herself, he or she may wish to hire as a consultant an Architecture and Engineering (A & E) firm or Fire Protection Engineering firm.

6. Q: If NARA has already approved a specific agency records center for another agency to store records, can we use the same facility for our records?

A: You must receive approval from NARA before using the agency records center, even if NARA already provided approval for another agency to use the agency records center. See 36 CFR 1234.30(c) (formerly 1228.240(c)) or File 2 of the Toolkit. See also FAQ 13.

7. Q: How can I find out if NARA has approved a specific storage facility?

A: You may contact Scott Birckhead at scott.birckhead@nara.gov to find out if your agency has submitted documentation for approval of a specific agency or commercial records storage facility. NARA approves agency requests to store records at an agency records center. NARA ensures that NARA records centers comply with the requirements. Federal agencies must submit a certification to NARA that commercial records centers comply with the requirements when using those facilities for records storage. See also FAQ 12.

8. Q: Why do we have to store our old records in a compliant facility?

A: As a Federal agency, you are responsible for the records you create or receive in your business transactions, including managing and preserving them as long as your records schedule requires. To manage your records in storage and ensure that they will be available, if needed, for Federal Government business, you must store your records in a safe and non-damaging facility.

9. Q: Do the records stored in compliant facilities include all types of media (textual, digital, electronic, etc.)?

A: It depends on the facility. Because different types of media require different storage conditions, a facility could be compliant for temporary paper records but not for permanent records or special media records. Permanent, unscheduled, or sample/select audiovisual, electronic, or microfilm records require additional environmental controls. These requirements are found in 36 CFR Parts 1236, 1237, and/or 1238 (formerly numbered as 1230, 1232, and 1234, respectively).

10. Q: Do records created by Federal contractors need to be stored in compliant facilities?

A: Federal contractors performing a government function or operating in an official government capacity may create or receive Federal records in the performance of their duties. If the contractor has created or received Federal records while performing a government function or is operating in an official government capacity, the Federal records must be stored in compliant facilities.

11. Q: Do “vital records” require special records storage conditions?

A: No, the same standards for records center storage facilities apply. Vital records are essential agency records that are needed to meet operational responsibilities under national security emergencies or other emergency conditions (see 36 CFR Part 1223 and the Vital Records guidance at http://www.archives.gov/records-mgmt/vital-records/) for guidance on managing vital records.

12. Q: I’m confused by what is meant by the words “approval,” “certifies,” “certification,” and “compliance.”

A: The words apply to what agencies must do to meet the requirements of 36 CFR 1234, depending on the type of records storage facility they wish to use.

Approval – This term refers to NARA approval of documentation that an agency must submit to NARA before storing records in an agency-operated records center or a commercial facility.

  • For the documentation required for agency-operated records centers, please see File 2 of the Records Storage Facility Toolkit.
  • For the documentation required for a commercial facility, please see File 3 of the Records Storage Facility Toolkit.

Certifies This term refers to the action that the Agency Records Officer takes when signing a Certification Statement or
Facility Standards for Records Storage Facilities Inspection Checklist concerning the compliance of a commercial facility with the subpart K requirements. The Certification Statement or Checklist is submitted to NARA for approval in accordance with 36 CFR 1234.30(e) (formerly 1228.240(e)).

Certification – This term refers to the Certification Statement or
Facility Standards for Records Storage Facilities Inspection Checklist .

Compliance – This term refers, for purposes of this Toolkit, to meeting the requirements of NARA regulations in 36 CFR 1234. The records storage facility must comply with standards in 36 CFR 1234.10 – 1234.14 (formerly 1228.228 – 1228.232), and the agency must comply with reporting requirements in 36 CFR 1234.30 (formerly 1228.240). See also FAQ 3

13. Q: I have an approval letter from NARA to use a commercial storage facility for Federal records created by the VA hospital where I work. There are other VA hospitals and clinics nearby creating the same type of records. May records from those facilities be stored at the commercial storage facility for which I have an approval letter without the need for their own approval letters from NARA?

A: Yes, with two provisions. By agreement with Samuel Nichols, the Veterans Affairs records officer, NARA has agreed to permit VA entities creating similar records to store those records at an already approved commercial facility without necessitating individual approvals for each VA entity to store records there. There are two provisions:

1. The VA records officer and NARA must be notified before records are stored under this agreement. Send notification to samuel.nichols@va.gov, martin.hill@va.gov, and to scott.birckhead@nara.gov listing the VA entity(ies), their address(es), and the name and address of the already approved storage facility to be used. Contact scott.birckhead@nara.gov​ to determine if a facility is already approved.

2. This procedure may be used provided the total volume of Federal records stored in one storage bay does not exceed 250,000 cubic feet as per 36 CFR 1234.12(b) (formerly 1228.230(b)):

b) All interior walls separating records storage areas from each other and from other storage areas in the building must be at least three-hour fire barrier walls. A records storage facility may not store more than 250,000 cubic feet total of Federal records in a single records storage area. When Federal records are combined with other records in a single records storage area, only the Federal records will apply toward this limitation.

14. Q: I have documents to be sent out for scanning. Does the vendor’s facility need to comply with the 36 CFR 1234 standards (formerly numbered 36 CFR 1228 subpart K)?

A: An offsite scanning vendor is not specifically covered by the Federal Records Storage Facility Standards, which are included in NARA’s regulations at 36 CFR Part 1234. If an agency uses an outsourced scanning operation, records to be scanned will be shipped to and stored with a vendor for the course of the project, and then shipped back to the agency. The agency should exercise good judgment in assessing the value of the records and addressing the risks involved in shipping and short-term storage.

The Federal Records Storage Facility Standards are designed to protect agencies’ federal records that are placed in a large storage facility for long-term storage. If the scanning operation involves long-term storage, then the facility standards may be applicable. If the scanning operation involves only short-term storage, then the standards do not need to apply. The determination as to what is short-term as opposed to long-term must be made by the agency records officer.

36 CFR 1234 describes the minimum standards required by NARA for protecting Federal records to ensure they are safely maintained for as long as the records disposition schedule requires. Section 1234.30(a) makes clear that Federal agencies “are responsible for ensuring that records in their legal custody are stored in appropriate space.” If an agency records officer determines that a scanning facility should be fully compliant with the 36 CFR 1234 requirements even for short-term storage during the scanning operation, it is his or her purview to do so.

15.  ​Q:  I am storing or plan to store only electronic records. Must the storage facility comply with the requirements of 36 CFR 1234?

A. The 36 CFR 1234 Federal Records Storage Facility Standards were formulated primarily with paper records in mind. There are only two parts of the standards that pertain to electronic records.

36 CFR 1234.14(b) applies to nontextual temporary records and states:

"At a minimum, nontextual temporary records must be stored in records storage space that meets the requirements for medium term storage set by the appropriate standard in this paragraph (b). In general, medium term conditions as defined by these standards are those that will ensure the preservation of the materials for at least 10 years with little information degradation or loss. Records may continue to be usable for longer than 10 years when stored under these conditions, but with an increasing risk of information loss or degradation with longer times. If temporary records require retention longer than 10 years, better storage conditions (cooler and drier) than those specified for medium term storage will be needed to maintain the usability of these records. The applicable standards are:

(1) ANSI/PIMA IT9.11 (incorporated by reference, see § 1234.3);

(2) ANSI/NAPM IT9.23 (incorporated by reference, see §§ 1234.3);

(3) ANSI/PIMA IT9.25 (incorporated by reference, see § 1234.3);

(4) ANSI/NAPM IT9.20 (incorporated by reference, see § 1234.3); and/or

(5) ANSI/NAPM IT9.18 (incorporated by reference, see §. 1234.3)." [end quote]


36 CFR 1234.14(d) applies to nontextual permanent records and states:

"All records storage facilities that store microfilm, audiovisual, and/or electronicpermanent, unscheduled, and/or sample/select records must comply with the storage standards for permanent and unscheduled records in parts 1238, 1237, and/or 1236 of this subchapter, respectively." [end quote]

The above is background information leading us to tell you that because NARA doesn't have specific standards promulgated for storing electronic records, we leave it to the agency records officer to make his or her best decision as to where and how electronic records are stored. 36 1234.30(a) states in part:

"General policy. Agencies are responsible for ensuring that records in their legal custody are stored in appropriate space as outlined in this part. . . ." [end quote]

The standards require that Federal agencies certify to NARA that a records storage facility complies with the standards. NARA then either approves or disapproves use of the facility based on our review of the certification documentation that is sent to us by Federal agencies. But, again, that applies to paper records being stored. 

NARA neither approves nor disapproves electronic records storage facilities. Federal agencies may find it helpful to see the information we have posted about the technical features of our Federal Records Center Electronic Records Vaults to help them make a decision about a particular commercial storage facility for electronic records. That is found at  http://www.archives.gov/frc/emedia-storage-faq.html at the bullet "What are the technical features of the FRC Electronic Records Vaults?" [end quote]


Contact Scott Birckhead by e-mail at scott.birckhead@nara.gov, by phone on (301) 741-5037.

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