Chapter 1. Identifying Records
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Identifying the records that support the Agency's work is the foundation of a successful records management program. EPA staff must determine the record status of all of their documentary materials. Federal records, as defined in the Federal Records Act, must be distinguished from nonrecords and personal papers, and must be managed according to the Agency records schedules.
See What is a Record? for help in determining the record status of documentary material.
An information resource may be a record if it:
- documents significant Agency decisions and commitments;
- adds to a proper understanding of the formulation or execution of Agency actions, operations and responsibilities;
- conveys information of value on important Agency activities;
- facilitates action by Agency staff;
- provides key substantive comments on a draft;
- makes possible a proper scrutiny by Congress or the Agency;
- is required by the Agency to be created or received; or
- protects the financial, legal and other rights of the government and of persons directly affected by the government's actions.
Records vary widely in physical forms or characteristics. They may be in paper, electronic, audiovisual, microform or other media.
The Agency's records must contain documentation that is "adequate and proper." That is, the documentation must show a clear picture of how the Agency conducts its business and makes its decisions. EPA offices should consider the following when determining if and how much documentation is necessary:
- legal or financial risk,
- audit needs,
- day-to-day management,
- public access requirements, and
- historical significance.
Certain activities require extensive documentation and may have statutory or regulatory requirements, in addition to EPA-specific requirements. These include:
- guidance to the regulated community,
- policy and budget development,
- enforcement and compliance activities,
- permitting activities,
- scientific research and publication, and
- activities of the Federal Advisory Committees.
The record must be clearly documented, so that the content and context can be understood by someone unfamiliar with the activity, action, decision or transaction.
Records under FOIA
Federal courts continually develop guidance in Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) case decisions in determining whether or not certain documentary materials are records. FOIA defines Agency records more broadly than the Federal Records Act. The FOIA manual (PDF), FOIA officer or the Office of General Counsel (OGC) can assist offices in determining if a document is a record under FOIA.
Records containing sensitive information must be handled in accordance with the practices in the Information Sensitivity Compendium (PDF), (68 pp, 703K) the Privacy Act Manual, and Agency policy on safeguarding personally identifiable information (PII) (PDF) (4 pp, 35K).
Nonrecords are government-owned documentary materials excluded from the legal definition of records, either because the materials do not meet the general conditions of record status already described, or because they fall under one of three specific categories:
- Extra copies of documents preserved only for convenience or reference.
- Stocks of publications. (However, EPA must maintain a record copy of publications, including annual and special reports, special studies, brochures, pamphlets, books, handbooks, manuals, posters and maps.)
- Library and museum material created or acquired and preserved solely for reference or exhibition purposes.
Examples of nonrecords include:
- copies of correspondence, directives, forms and other documents on which the Agency takes no administrative action;
- routing slips and transmittal sheets that provide no additional information;
- catalogs, trade journals and other publications received from other government agencies, commercial firms, or private institutions that require no action and are not part of a case on which action is taken; and
- physical exhibits, artifacts, and other material objects lacking evidential value.
The following guidelines apply to managing nonrecords:
When it is difficult to decide whether documents are records or nonrecords, Agency staff should treat them as records.
Nonrecords should not be interfiled with records.
Nonrecords must be destroyed when they are no longer needed for reference; extra copies may not be retained after the record copy is destroyed.
Typically, an information resource is a record for a single custodian and other copies are nonrecords. For example, a memorandum circulated Agency-wide that does not require action is a record for the individual or organization sending it, but a nonrecord for recipients. However, in some cases, the information resource is a record for several people, possibly under different records schedules. For example, a letter establishing a partnership between EPA and a state agency may be a record under general correspondence for the senior official who sends it, but a record under program management for the office managing the project.
Personal papers are materials that belong to an individual, and are not used to conduct Agency business. They relate solely to an individual's personal and private affairs, or are used exclusively for that individual's convenience. In contrast to records and nonrecords, the government does not own personal papers. If kept in Agency space, the owner of personal papers must clearly designate them and manage them separately from records and nonrecords. However, labeling documentary materials "personal", "confidential" or "private" is not sufficient to determine the status of documentary materials.
Categories of personal papers include:
Materials an individual accumulates before joining government service that he or she does not use later to conduct government business.
Materials that relate solely to an individual's family matters, outside business pursuits, professional activities or private associations.
Work-related materials that the individual does not prepare, receive or use to transact Agency business (e.g., reminders and personal observations about work and other topics). This category is the most difficult to distinguish from records and nonrecords because of its work-related content.
Examples of personal papers include:
- political materials,
- insurance or medical papers,
- volunteer and community service records,
- manuscripts and drafts of articles and books not related to Agency business,
- diaries and journals, and
- personal calendars and appointment schedules.
See Frequent Questions about Personal Papers for more information.
Working files are rough notes, calculations or drafts used to prepare or analyze other documents. Sometimes, working files are needed to adequately document Agency activities. Staff must give special attention to these files to ensure that they are not needed to supplement formal records. Working files that must be preserved as records include:
- proposals or evaluations of options or alternatives and their implications in the development of policies and decisions;
- documented findings;
- supported recommendations; or
- comments received via a formal Agency comment process, from the public or during a formal review by outside experts.
In many cases, individuals may destroy working files once the content has been incorporated into official records. Working files that are disposable once a document is finalized are those that:
receive no official action themselves, are not reviewed or approved by others, and are only used to prepare documents for official action such as review or signature. These include:
- budget calculations,
- preliminary outlines for a report, and
- lists of suggested topics to be included in a memorandum.
relate to preliminary, interim or ancillary activities that are not needed as part of the official record. These include:
- drafts of routine memoranda, correspondence and proposed changes,
- informal comments received on draft publications, and
- documents used to brief staff on a proposed item.
Some records schedules specifically identify working files as records, but, generally, offices must make their own determination whether or not to incorporate working files into the record. Copies of records must not be kept in working files beyond the approved retention of the record copy.
See Frequent Questions about Working Files for more information.
Records may be in any format or medium, such as paper, film, disk, maps, photographs, or other physical type or form. The method of recording information may be manual, mechanical, photographic, electronic, or any combination of these or other technologies.
An electronic record is in a form that requires a computer to process and read it. Examples of electronic records are:
- Documents created using desktop applications (e.g., word processing, spreadsheet).
- E-mail – messages transmitted over any electronic mail communications system.
- Databases – electronic information systems that automate business functions and contain a collection of data that can be manipulated. The information is dynamic and often used to support more than one group of records.
- Web sites – the software used to maintain the sites, the content on the sites, records concerning management of the site, and backend systems that are not covered by other schedules.
- Instant messages (IM) – the exchange of messages between two or more people in real-time through the use of a specialized software application (e.g., Lotus Sametime).
- Digital images – images taken with a digital camera or scanned from an original document.
- Information contained on personal digital assistants (PDAs).
See the following for more information:
- Frequent Questions about E-Mail and Records
- Frequent Questions about Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) and Records
Electronic Reporting and Electronic Signatures
GPEA requires that federal agencies, when practicable, use electronic forms, electronic filing, and electronic signatures to conduct official business with the public. In response to this statute, as well as the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (E-Sign) of 2000, EPA implemented the Cross-Media Electronic Reporting Rule (CROMERR). This rule specifies that regulated entities may submit electronic reports and maintain electronic records, including electronic signatures, in lieu of paper.
Records containing electronic signatures must:
- indicate who signed it, and whether that person approved the content of the record; and
- include all signatures, accompanied by dates and other identifiers, such as organization or title.
Electronic signature technologies, such as public key infrastructure (PKI), create and verify the validity of an electronic signature. Offices must ensure that individual identifiers, not already embedded in the content of the record and created using these technologies, are captured as part of the record. Offices must also retain the hardware and software that created the signature so that the record can be revalidated at a later time.
For more information on electronic signatures, see Records Management Guidance for Agencies Implementing Electronic Signature Technologies (PDF) (21 pp, 82K).
Verbal communication includes voicemail messages, telephone conversations, and formal and informal meetings. Verbal communication that provides substantive information needed to document EPA activities, and that is not otherwise documented, may be a record.
See Frequent Questions about Verbal Communications and Records for more information.
Special Media Records
Special media records are maintained separately from other records because their physical forms or characteristics require unusual care. Examples of special media records include:
Audiovisual records – records in pictorial or aural form, including still and motion pictures, graphic materials, audio and video recordings and multimedia, such as slide-tape productions.
Geospatial data records – information that identifies the geographic location and characteristics of natural or constructed features and boundaries on the earth, typically represented by points, lines, polygons and/or complex geographic features. This includes original and interpreted geospatial data, such as those derived through remote sensing including, but not limited to, images and raster data sets, aerial photographs and other forms of geospatial data or data sets in both digitized and non-digitized forms.
Architectural records – drawings and related records depicting the proposed and actual construction of stationary structures, such as buildings, bridges and monuments.
Engineering records – design and construction drawings and related records depicting the planning and construction of such objects as roads, canals, ships, planes, weapons and machines.
Micrographic records – records containing images greatly reduced in size, and generally stored on microform.
Special media records should include finding aids to provide context for the records and cross-references to and from related textual records.
See the following for more information: