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Frequent Questions about Records Schedules

What is a records schedule?

A records schedule provides mandatory instructions on how long to keep records (retention) and when they can be destroyed and/or transferred to alternate storage facilities (disposition). They are also known as records disposition schedules, records retention schedules, and records control schedules. To keep it simple, we call them "records schedules" or "schedules."

Schedules identify which records are temporary (eligible for destruction after a specific time period) and which records are permanent (transferred to NARA after a specific time period). By following the instructions in the appropriate schedule, you can:

  • Destroy/recycle records that are no longer needed in the office;
  • Retire inactive records to offsite storage; or
  • Transfer permanent records to the National Archives.

There are two types of schedules:

  • General Records Schedules (GRS)
    The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which has responsibility for establishing recordkeeping requirements for federal records, issues the GRS. The GRS provides authority to destroy/recycle temporary, administrative records common to several or all federal agencies (for example, official personnel folders).

  • EPA-specific schedules
    EPA has over 160 schedules for records created and maintained by the Agency. In addition, approximately 100 of the most commonly used GRS items have been incorporated into the EPA schedules (for example, FOIA Requests Files). While this may seem like a lot of schedules, remember that they are for the entire Agency. You will only need to deal with a limited number of them.

What is a "consolidated" records schedule?

Approximately 350 records schedules were combined into 21 "consolidated" (also known as “big bucket”) records schedules. For example, 23 schedules covering security records were combined into schedule 1008; 10 schedules covering acquisitions and contracts were combined into schedule 1004.

Approximately one-third of the consolidated schedules are "final" with EPA and NARA approval and the remaining two-thirds are "draft" and awaiting NARA approval.

Why do we have to use schedules?

There are several good reasons for using the schedules:

  • It's required! According to regulations issued by NARA (36 CFR 1225.10), all federal agencies are required to have schedules for records, regardless of format, including paper, audiovisual materials, maps and drawings, publications, word processing documents, e-mail, databases, etc.
  • Removing records that are no longer needed from active office space makes it easier for you to manage the records you need.
  • Using appropriate schedules ensures records are not kept longer than needed, but also not destroyed too soon.
  • Removing or destroying records without authorization can result in criminal penalties.
What kind of information can I find in a schedule?

Briefly, the schedule describes the types of materials that are covered, how long they are to be kept, and what happens to them after they are no longer needed in the office.

Some of the other information you can find in a schedule includes: which office(s) can use it, guidance on how the schedule should be applied, who has custody, and approval dates.

See the explanation of schedule fields for more detailed information.

How do I know which schedules apply to my records?

There are three ways you can find the schedule you need:

  1. Look up a schedule

    • Approved schedules can be browsed by number, program or title, or searched by keyword.

    • Draft and development schedules are available to Agency staff and on-site contractors using EPA computers only.

      Important note: Draft and development schedules cannot be used to transfer records to the Federal Records Center (FRC) or authorize destruction of records; they must be approved by EPA and NARA first. Contact the Records Help Desk if you need assistance with this process.

    • EPA’s schedules are primarily based on functions (e.g., public affairs, legal services, environmental programs and projects). Examples of the types of records typically created and received when performing that function are included in the schedules. Other important information in the schedules that may help you determine the correct one include:

      • Program (e.g., Personnel)
      • Applicability (e.g., Headquarters)
      • Description (e.g., Includes logs or registers reflecting daily number of visits…)
      • Disposition Instructions (e.g., Includes, but is not limited to, leases and title papers…)
      • Guidance (e.g., Examples of forms covered by this schedule includes…)

  2. 2. Contact your Records Liaison Officer or Records Contact

    Your program office, region, or lab has a "records liaison officer (RLO)" or contact who can help you find the appropriate schedules and provide guidance on how they should be applied.

  3. Contact the Records Help Desk

    Contact the Records Help Desk for expert assistance.

If the schedule I use needs to be changed, what do I do?

First, let your records liaison know, then either the records liaison or you should contact the Records Help Desk. We will work with you to make the needed changes and coordinate the approval process.

In some cases, changes can be made immediately. For example, slight changes in the description of the records or adding guidance to the Agency-wide guidance portion of the schedule can be made without going through the normal approval process.

However, new schedules and those that have major changes or changes in the retention period have to be approved by EPA and NARA. Contact the Records Help Desk for assistance.

A list of monthly schedule changes is posted on the intranet.

How do I know when a schedule changes?

A list of monthly schedule changes is posted on the records intranet and changes are announced in an NRMP Alert sent to the NRMP Records Network distribution list.

What if there isn't a schedule for the records I have?

If you think your records are unscheduled, contact your RLO or the Records Help Desk. Consider any unscheduled records to be permanent until resolved.

Some of the schedules are identified as "media neutral." What does that mean?

EPA schedules allow for maintaining records in any format including electronic. If the record copy is electronic, it should be maintained in an approved electronic recordkeeping system such as EPA's enterprise content management system (ECMS), EZ Email, or in an electronic information system with an approved schedule (e.g., Emissions Inventory System (EIS)) when possible. Electronic recordkeeping systems must meet EPA requirements.

Why does it take so long to get schedules approved?

It is important to include all stakeholders and provide the opportunity to review and comment on new schedules to ensure the schedule is correct and appropriate. In addition to involved program staff, the Offices of Inspector General and General Counsel review and comment on drafts. When the schedules are used by multiple offices, they are posted to the intranet for Agency-wide comment.

EPA-approved schedules are sent to NARA. NARA also has several steps to complete. As part of their review, an appraisal archivist may contact the holder or custodian of the records for clarification or additional information. Notice of the schedule is also made available for public comment when NARA publishes a notice in the Federal Register.

What can I do to help?

Assistance from EPA staff is very important to the success of this process.

As creators and custodians of the records, you have the most knowledge about how the records are used and how long you need to use them.

NRMP needs your help to:

  • Develop new schedules when they are needed;
  • Update existing schedules when work requirements change;
  • Answer questions about your records as the schedules are reviewed;
  • Follow the instructions in the schedules when they are approved.

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