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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:

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:

Certain activities require extensive documentation and may have statutory or regulatory requirements, in addition to EPA-specific requirements. These include:

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.

Sensitive Records

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:

Examples of nonrecords include:

The following guidelines apply to managing nonrecords:

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

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:

Examples of personal papers include:

See Frequent Questions about Personal Papers for more information.

Working Files

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:

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:

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.

Record Formats

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.

Electronic Records

An electronic record is in a form that requires a computer to process and read it. Examples of electronic records are:

See the following for more information:

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:

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

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:

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:

Contents | Introduction | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4

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