Chapter 4. Inactive Records
Inactive records are those that are no longer needed to conduct Agency business. Events in this phase of the lifecycle include closing records, optionally retiring them to off-site storage, and destroying or transferring them to the National Archives. EPA records schedules provide instructions for each of these events.
Records are closed when the current business activity has ended. Closure begins the mandatory retention period for the records. Records schedules require records to be closed either:
- at the end of a defined time period (e.g., the end of the fiscal or calendar year), or
- when a certain event relating to the record has occurred (e.g., the denial of a permit or receipt of final payment).
Offices should establish procedures on when to close records (e.g., how often to perform file plan reviews) and how to store and label closed records, which must be retained until final disposition.
Offices may store inactive records on-site or retire them to an off-site storage facility until the destruction or transfer date. EPA retains legal custody and controls access to the records while they are stored off-site. Offices may choose to use the Federal Records Center (FRC), which is operated by NARA, or a commercial records center for off-site storage. If an office has sent inactive records to an off-site storage facility, this should be noted on the file plan.
If the office uses a commercial records center, the facility must meet the requirements in NARA regulations (36 CFR 1234). At least 45 calendar days before transferring records to a storage facility other than an FRC, the ARO must submit documentation to NARA, stating that the facility complies with the requirements in the regulations. The office must also regularly inspect the commercial records center to ensure that it meets the facility standards in the regulations.
Offices may need access to retired records to conduct Agency business. See Using the Federal Records Center for information on retiring records to and retrieving them from FRCs. Commercial off-site storage facilities will assist offices in retiring and retrieving records.
EPA records having sufficient historical or other enduring value to warrant continued preservation by the federal government are designated in the records schedule as permanent records to be transferred to the National Archives. Once records are transferred, legal custody passes from EPA to NARA.
Permanent records must be transferred to the National Archives in accordance with the disposition instructions in the schedules. Records may be transferred early if they require special preservation. When transferring permanent electronic records, offices must keep a copy of the records until the National Archives notifies EPA that the transfer was successful.
If the records are maintained in Agency space, EPA initiates the transfer by submitting a Standard Form 258 (SF 258), Agreement to Transfer Records to the National Archives. The SF 258 documents the change in legal custody of the records and states the terms of the transfer.
If the records are maintained at an FRC, the FRC initiates the transfer by contacting EPA 90 days before the transfer is due to ensure the Agency concurs.
Records with statutory restrictions on access remain restricted until they are 30 years old. If the restrictions need to be longer, offices should note it on the SF 258.
Permanent electronic records should be transferred to the National Archives according to the applicable records schedules. Documentation adequate to identify and interpret permanent electronic records must be transferred with the records. This documentation must include an SF 258 and National Archives Form 14097, Technical Description for Transfer of Electronic Records.
The National Archives can assume physical custody of permanent electronic records before they are scheduled to be transferred, while EPA still retains legal custody. Public reference service to these records is limited to referring any inquiry to EPA and making reproductions available only to EPA.
The National Archives requires the Agency to use only media that is sound and free from defects for transferring permanent electronic records. Approved methods of transferring records are open reel magnetic tape, magnetic tape cartridge, CD-ROM and File Transfer Protocol (FTP). Records must not be dependent on proprietary software or hardware. In addition to the formats specified in NARA's regulations, it is now accepting other formats, such as Portable Document Format (PDF) files, scanned images, digital photographs and Web content.
See Preparing Electronic Records for Transfer to the National Archives for more information.
Permanent audiovisual records more than 10 years old must be reviewed for possible immediate transfer to the National Archives. If any permanent or unscheduled motion picture films or still picture negatives are found to be deteriorating, offices must contact NARA immediately. Also, masters of videotapes and originals and preprint material for motion pictures should be transferred to the National Archives as quickly as possible. See NARA regulations (36 CFR Part 1237) for specific instructions.
Program offices must send two copies of posters that are distributed Agency-wide or to the public, and original artwork of unusual or outstanding merit, to the National Archives immediately after publication.
Transferring Records to Other Agencies
Transfer of EPA records to other agencies must be approved by NARA, unless:
- the transfer is required by statute, executive order, a presidential reorganization plan or a treaty;
- the records are loaned for official use; or
- the transfer is between two parts of the same executive department.
RLOs must submit a request for transfer to the ARO, who requests approval from NARA.
EPA records schedules authorize destruction of temporary records when their retention period expires. Records with restrictions, such as those containing personal or confidential business information (CBI), must be shredded or otherwise definitively destroyed. If those records are destroyed by outside contractors, a federal employee or, if authorized by EPA, contractor must witness the destruction. Executive Order (EO) 12356 governs the destruction of security-classified documents. Specific laws and regulations, including the Privacy Act of 1974 and NARA regulations (36 CFR 1226.24), govern the destruction of other restricted records.
Methods of destruction include:
- physical destruction (e.g., hammering, smashing) of electronic media, and
- demagnetization or secure deletion (i.e., overwriting data several times using specialized software) of electronic records.
To prevent premature destruction, offices should develop procedures to notify records custodians responsible for the affected records of the impending destruction.
When destroying imaged records, offices must remove the image itself from the storage media, or physically destroy the storage media. Removing index pointers to imaged files does not destroy an image.
Destruction of records maintained at EPA sites must be documented. Destruction forms are a uniform method of documenting the decision and authority to destroy records, and provide safeguards to prevent unauthorized destruction.
Prior to disposal, each destruction should be approved by the:
- records custodian,
- authorizing official (e.g., RLO, supervisor),
- person destroying the records, and
- witness (if restricted records are destroyed by an outside contractor).
RLOs must maintain documentation of on-site destruction.
When records maintained at FRCs are eligible for destruction, the FRCs initiate the following process:
The FRC notifies EPA of a scheduled destruction 90 days prior with NA Form 13001, Notice of Eligibility for Disposal.
The Agency-authorized contact notifies custodians of records that are due for destruction, and requests concurrence:
If EPA concurs, it completes the NA 13001, indicating concurrence, signs and dates the form, and returns it to the FRC. FRCs must receive written concurrence before destruction takes place.
If EPA does not concur, it must provide a justification, sign and date the NA 13001, and return it to the FRC.
After the FRC receives the Agency's concurrence, it will destroy the records.
RLOs must maintain documentation of FRC destruction.
Offices must monitor their records to prevent unauthorized destruction, which is illegal under federal law (44 U.S.C. 3106), and carries penalties of a fine and up to three years of imprisonment. Agency staff must report to the ARO any unlawful or accidental removal, defacing, alteration or destruction of records.
The report should include:
- a complete description of the records, along with volume and dates if known;
- the office of origin;
- an explanation of the exact circumstances surrounding the unauthorized action;
- details, when appropriate, of the actions taken to salvage, retrieve or reconstruct the records; and
- a statement of safeguards established to prevent further losses.
Other major risks associated with destruction are:
Delayed destruction: Temporary records must be destroyed promptly on or shortly after the approved destruction date. If destruction is not prompt, the Agency will be obligated to include those records in response to a discovery or FOIA request.
Improper destruction method or incomplete destruction: EPA must ensure that temporary records, especially security classified or Privacy Act records, are destroyed in accordance with the applicable regulations, and that the records are destroyed completely. If destruction is not done properly, information in records may be compromised or stolen. Offices must make certain any paper records and other media are completely destroyed, and that electronic records are obliterated through secured deletion.
Records eligible for destruction should not be maintained beyond their disposition date. However, special circumstances may require continued retention. These circumstances include:
records holds due to litigation, audit or FOIA requests; and
changes to the record's retention period that are in process or have yet to be forwarded to the FRC.
Normal disposition activities for all records, regardless of media, must be suspended until the action is complete and offices have been notified that disposition may be resumed.
If EPA requires retention of records stored at an FRC for more than one year past the scheduled destruction date, the Agency must request NARA's approval to temporarily extend a retention period. If NARA approves an extension, it will notify EPA. For records kept less than one year past the destruction date, no formal extension is necessary.
The Agency may destroy records regardless of schedule provisions under conditions that pose a menace to human health, human life or property. In these situations, the office must contact the ARO, who will authorize the destruction upon receiving approval from NARA. The two exceptions are:
Film produced prior to 1951, which may be nitrate-based, requiring special handling. If its deterioration threatens human life or property, the ARO may destroy it and submit a written report to NARA within 30 days.
Records maintained outside the territorial limits of the United States that are threatened by war or other hostile action. The ARO must provide details to NARA on the records and the destruction within six months.