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Frequent Questions about Recordkeeping Systems


What is a recordkeeping system?

A "recordkeeping system" is a manual or automated system that collects, organizes, and categorizes records, facilitating their preservation, retrieval, use, and disposition.

A recordkeeping system has four components:

  • Records - information resources, in any format, that are:

    • created in the course of business,
    • received for action, or
    • needed to document Agency activities.
  • People - the Records Liaison Officer and records contacts, who oversee a records management program; and Agency staff, who create, receive, and use records in conducting EPA business.

  • Processes - procedures on how to manage records throughout their lifecycle.

  • Tools - equipment and software used to capture, organize, store, track, and retrieve the records.

Are we required to have a recordkeeping system?

Yes. All federal agencies are required to "prescribe an appropriate records maintenance program so that complete records are filed or otherwise preserved, records can be found when needed, the identification and retention of permanent records are facilitated, and permanent and temporary records are physically segregated, or for electronic records, segregable." Details can be found in regulations issued by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

This requirement can be met by establishing a sound recordkeeping system that:

  • identifies the records created or received in an organization,
  • assigns responsibility for them, and
  • specifies how they are maintained (e.g., classified, filed, tracked).
What is the value of a recordkeeping system?

A recordkeeping system helps ensure that EPA's records are trustworthy. Records that are not trustworthy can:

  • put the Agency at risk,
  • adversely affect litigation and enforcement efforts,
  • compromise e-government transactions, and
  • impair program operations.
What are trustworthy records?

The characteristics of trustworthy records are:

  • Reliability - the records are a full and accurate representation of the transactions, activities or facts to which they attest and can be depended upon in the course of subsequent transactions or activities;
  • Authenticity - the records can be proven to be what they claim to be, to have been created or sent by the persons claiming to have created or sent them, and to have been created or sent at the claimed time;
  • Integrity - the records are complete and unaltered; and
  • Usability - the records can be located, retrieved, presented and interpreted.

To ensure records are trustworthy, a recordkeeping system must preserve the:

  • Content - the information within the records;
  • Context - the circumstances under which the records were created or received (who, when, how and why); and
  • Structure - the relationship between the parts of the record.
How do I know if we have an adequate recordkeeping system?

The first step is to evaluate the current program. Does the recordkeeping system:

  • include the records, people, processes, and tools identified above?
  • ensure that the records are trustworthy?
  • allow you to find the records you need when you need them?
  • help you respond to FOIA, litigation, audit and other information requests completely and on time?
  • enable you to present a clear picture of your actions or decisions?
  • ensure that you destroy or transfer records according to instructions in EPA records schedules?

One method for determining if there are gaps in the recordkeeping system is to conduct a self-evaluation of your records management program. Beginning in FY 2007, annual self evaluations are required, and program and regional officials will be reporting results to EPA's Quality and Information Council (QIC).

You should also review EPA's records management policy and guidance and tools. Once you have assessed your program, you can formulate a plan to design and implement improvements.

What does a recordkeeping system look like?

This is an example of a centralized recordkeeping system (mouse over the names of the components to highlight):

The system has:

  • records, which are filed on the shelves;
  • people, like the records contact and staff member who are working together to ensure that records are captured in the recordkeeping system;
  • processes, which are documented in the procedures manual that the records contact is holding; and
  • tools, such as shelving and file cabinets, folders and color-coded labels that keep the records organized.
Does EPA have an electronic recordkeeping system?

Yes. EPA is implementing an Enterprise Content Management System (ECMS), which will allow Agency records to be maintained electronically. In FY 2007, you may maintain e-mail records in ECMS. In the future, you will be able to maintain other electronic records in ECMS. But remember: for some time, everyone will be managing both electronic and nonelectronic records, so a good manual recordkeeping system is still essential.

How can I get additional guidance?

If you have policy questions about recordkeeping systems, contact the Records Help Desk. You can find more information in the following publications:


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