A 10-Step Records Management Plan for Your Office
This document outlines the primary steps to follow to establish and maintain a records management program for your office. Why is this important?
First, as a Federal employee, at the EPA, you will be creating and using Federal government records. There are rules governing the use and destruction of all Federal records. For example, it is your responsibility to protect Federal records in your custody, and there are legal implications for destroying records without the proper authority.
Second, following good records management practices will not only help you meet legal requirements, they will benefit you and the Agency in many ways such as:
- Improving access to information;
- Controlling the growth of materials taking up valuable office space;
- Reducing operating costs;
- Minimizing litigation risks;
- Safeguarding vital information;
- Supporting better management decision making; and,
- Preserving EPA history.
Here is the 10-step records management plan for your office.
Step 1. Determine who will be responsible and what resources will be needed.
Establish a project team with representatives from all sub units and job series (not just support and clerical staff) to oversee the project. The project team should:
- Set up a network of "records liaisons" with a lead person and liaisons for each office.
- Decide if everything will be done "in house" or if outside help (e.g., contractors) will be needed.
- Select one office or sub unit in which to initiate the project. Based on the experience obtained in this one office, you can estimate the resources needed to do other offices.
Step 2. Identify records needed to document the activities and functions of your office.
Conduct an inventory of the materials in your office. Don't forget to include empty offices, closets, and other areas where things may have been "stashed."
Document, at a minimum, where materials are located, how much there is, and the format (e.g., paper, electronic, maps, etc.). (When you have a "snapshot" of the scope of materials in your office, you may need to go back to Step 1 and review the resources available to complete the project.)
An inventory will help you identify which materials are:
- Reference materials (nonrecords),
- Personal papers (nonrecords),
- Extra copies of documents, publications, and forms (nonrecords).
The inventory will also help you identify which records would need to be immediately available in the event of an emergency (vital records).
Step 2 resources
- Interactive Q & A: What is a Record?
- E-Mail Quick Reference Guide
- Frequent Questions About Working Files
- Frequent Questions About Personal Papers
- Frequently Asked Questions About Records Inventories
Step 3. Establish your procedures (recordkeeping requirements).
Now that you know what you have in your office, the project team needs to determine:
- If records will be kept in a "centralized" area, or "decentralized" at individual work stations;
- The type of documents that are included in the record files;
- How draft documents, working papers, and concurrence copies will be handled.
- Who will be responsible for maintaining the record copy (records custodian).
Remember - Nonrecord materials such as convenience copies and personal papers need to be maintained separate from records.
Step 3 resources
Step 4. Match your records to the records schedules.
The next step in the project is to match the records identified in your inventory with the records schedules. Records schedules provide information on how long records are to be kept in the office and what happens when they are no longer needed in the office. Retention periods as stated in the schedules are mandatory.
Step 4 resources
Records schedules can be found on the National Records Management Program (NRMP) website. There are two sets:
- Approved records schedules
- Draft records schedules [EPA only]
(Use this page to search for both approved and draft schedules.)
If a records schedule is still in draft, you can not destroy records covered by that schedule until it has been moved to the approved portion of the website.
Contact the National Records Management Program Help Desk if:
- You can not find an appropriate records schedule;
- Your existing schedule is out of date or you need a new one.
Step 5. Prepare a "file plan."
Now that you know what records you have and what the appropriate records schedules are, you can begin to organize them. EPA records are organized using the Agency file codes to provide the first level of organization or the "main category."
Once you have identified the file code, place them in numerical order (e.g., 401 110 - Office Administrative Files, 405 202 - Contract Management Records, ...).
Then, determine if there will be sub-categories or sub-folders and what they will be. For example:
401 110 - Reports and Statistics Annual activity reports Personnel reports Training Travel
Step 5 resources
Step 6. Document your recordkeeping requirements and procedures.
Prepare a document, a file plan, which gives details on:
- How your records are organized and maintained,
- Who is responsible for doing what,
- When it should be done (e.g., annual file retirement),
- What happens to the records when they are no longer needed in the office.
Include all the decisions you made in steps 1 through 5 (e.g., what happens to draft documents).
Step 7. Clean out records which are beyond the approved retention periods.
Once you have documented your file plan you can begin to organize your records. First, however, it is a good idea to get rid of those materials in your office which are not needed. If authorized by the records schedule, you can:
- Retire records which are no longer needed in the office to offsite storage (e.g., the Federal Records Center (FRC)).
- Transfer permanent records to the National Archives, if appropriate. Contact the Records Help Desk for assistance.
- Recycle materials which have passed their approved retention period. Remember to shred materials containing confidential or personal information.
Step 7 resources
- Using the Federal Records Center: A Guide for Headquarters Staff (MS Word, 58pp., 4.17MB, available on the EPA intranet only).
Step 8. Organize your records.
Now you can begin to implement your file plan.
First, prepare folders and organize documents within the folders. Follow the procedures established in your file plan.
Place reference sheets in folders, when necessary, to refer users to the location of related non-paper materials such as maps, drawings, videotapes, etc.
Organize electronic documents (e.g., WordPerfect documents, e-mail messages) residing on individual computer or local network directories using the Agency file codes.
Remember to spend the majority of your time on the "mission-related" records and less on administrative or "housekeeping" records such as routine correspondence.
Step 9. Maintain your records on an on-going basis.
Once everything is organized, it is important to keep it current and up to date. Be sure to:
- File new materials on a regular basis (e.g., weekly).
- Protect records containing confidential information such as confidential business information (CBI) or personal information.
- Establish a check-out system (e.g., "out" cards) to track the location of your records so you always know where they are.
- Clean out inactive materials on a regular basis, usually at the end of the year (as per your written procedures).
- Retire eligible records to the FRC.
- Clean out superseded or obsolete reference materials.
Step 10. Train, train, train.
Congratulations! Now you have a file plan. You've cleaned out all the unnecessary materials and organized the necessary materials. Your job isn't over yet! You need to be sure all staff members (and contractors) know about their recordkeeping responsibilities. Records liaisons need to brief senior management on the importance of your records management program and train office staff on how it works.
To help you, the NRMP offers:
- Training sessions, including basic records management and records retirement;
- Tool kits giving more details on how to complete each of these steps; and,
- Presentations and handouts you can tailor for your particular office.