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10 Most Frequent Questions about Records


What are my records responsibilities?

There are only three major ones:

  • Create the records necessary to document the activities for which you are responsible,
  • File those records in a manner that allows for them to be safely stored and efficiently retrieved when necessary, and
  • Dispose of records in accordance with Agency and Federal regulations.

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What is a record?

Books (and laws) have been written on this subject. The basic definition is found in the Federal Records Act. Records are defined as "all books, papers, maps, photographs, machine readable materials, or other documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received by an agency of the United States Government" [44 U.S. Code, Chapter 33, Section 3301] and needed to document Agency activities or actions.

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Is all of the paper I have in my office record material?

No. In most programs, probably a quarter of the paper volume is actually record material that needs to be retained for any length of time. Much of what is in most offices is either reference material which can be destroyed when no longer needed. Even working papers are records, although they generally need to be maintained for a shorter period of time.

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What should I treat as a record in my office?

From a records management perspective, a document is a record in your office if:

  • Your office created it.
  • Your office acted on it.
  • Your office received it for action.
  • Your office is designated as the custodian because of oversight duties or for other reasons.
  • Your office needs it to document its activities or decisions.

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I have a lot of records around. I don't need them any more and they are taking up space. Am I free to recycle or destroy them?

No. Federal records are government property. They can not be loaned, recycled, or otherwise destroyed without authorization.

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How can I reduce the volume of records I have in my office?

Use records schedules as a guide to eliminating unnecessary records. Retention of each type of records maintained in your office is governed by a records schedule which has been rigorously reviewed to ensure the records are kept a sufficient length of time. Schedules are reviewed and approved by the Agency and the Archivist of the United States and serve as the legal authority for destruction of records or their transfer to the National Archives.

Here are other methods for reducing the amount of paper in your office:

  • Review your files for outdated reference materials and discard (recycle) superseded or obsolete items.
  • Microfilm your records. In most cases if they are properly filmed, the paper original can be destroyed.
  • Use image technology to eliminate the need to keep massive amounts of paper on site.

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Does this apply only to paper?

No. A record can be any physical format: microfilm, videotape, maps, photographs, electronic records (word processing, spreadsheets, electronic mail, etc.), or other media. For example, electronic mail messages that meet the definition of a record must be retained in either paper or electronic form as long as the records schedule specifies. Records in media other than paper are also covered in the records schedules and often require special handling due to the fragility of the medium.

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Why do we have to do records management?

Three reasons - it makes sense from an economy and efficiency standpoint; it enables the Agency (and you) to fully document its actions and decisions; and it is required by Federal statute and regulation.

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How do I benefit from good records management?

You benefit several ways.

  • Free up office space for other purposes.
  • Allow quicker retrieval of documents.
  • Provide better documentation with less paper.
  • Save money on space, equipment, and staff time.
  • Comply with Federal and Agency requirements.
Who do I contact for help?

Each program office, region, and lab has a Records Contact or Liaison who can assist you with your records questions. Assistance is also available from the National Records Management Program in the form of:


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