Maintaining and Disposing of Federal Records
What do Freedom of Information Act requests, lawsuits, Congressional inquiries and Federal judicial opinions have in common? -- The need for impeccable records!
This publication summarizes Agency employee responsibilities and requirements concerning the maintenance and disposition of official Agency records. It is intended to promote compliance with Federal law and Agency policy. All Federal agencies are required to create and maintain documentation of their organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, and essential transactions. Federal records are Government property and may not be disposed of except in accordance with approved records control schedules. These schedules specify the authorized retention periods for Agency records and instructions for disposition. Employees who are transferring to other EPA organizations or leaving the Agency should remember that the documents they have accumulated--except for personal papers--belong to the Agency, and they may not remove them without authorization. This includes records maintained in private offices as well as those filed centrally.
What Are My Records Management Responsibilities?
As an EPA employee, you have three specific records management responsibilities:
- Create records sufficient to document your activities;
- File records for safe storage and efficient retrieval; and
- Follow the retention and disposition guidance specified in the schedules and the recordkeeping requirements documented for your organization within EPA. Employees may not destroy or remove records except in accordance with the approved schedules.
Employees do not have to retain records beyond the requirements listed in the schedules. If Agency records have been legally destroyed according to these schedules, no attempt need be made to reproduce such records for any subsequent request (such as FOIA).
Managers or supervisors have an additional responsibility for the overall documentation of the activities of their program or unit. They should ensure that recordkeeping requirements exist for all records, that the records are being maintained according to Federal regulations and Agency policy, and that custodians and file stations are identified for all records.
What Exactly Are Federal Records?
According to law, Federal records are defined as:
"...documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received by an agency of the United States Government under Federal law or in connection with the transaction of public business and preserved or appropriate for preservation...as evidence of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the Government or because of the informational value of the data in them."
This definition is intentionally broad to ensure that documentation of Federal Government activities is sufficient to serve as a record of the conduct of Government business. It is also important to be aware that "preservation" does not always mean permanent preservation and that some documents are still records even if they only have very short life spans.
Records exist in many different formats in addition to paper documents, e.g., working files, drafts, E-mail messages, data and spreadsheets, computer output, data from test equipment, results of computer modeling, videos, maps, architectural drawings, and microform. Employees must apply the definition of a record to such documents to determine whether they merit retention as records. Employees should remember that official Agency records include both final products and documentation supporting the decision trail.
Can Records Be Removed from the Agency?
Federal law (44 U.S.C. § 3105) requires agencies to establish safeguards against the removal or loss of Federal records. These safeguards include notifying agency officials that:
- Criminal penalties are provided for the willful and unlawful destruction, removal, or private use of Federal records.
Concealment, Removal, or Mutilation of Records (18 U.S.C. § 2071)
- Whoever willfully and unlawfully conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates, or destroys, or attempts to do so, or, with intent to do so takes and carries away any record, proceeding, map, book, paper, document, or other thing, filed or deposited with any clerk or officer of any court of the United States, or in any public office, or with any judicial or public officer of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.
- Whoever, having the custody of any such record, proceeding, map, book, document, paper, or other thing, willfully and unlawfully conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates, falsifies, or destroys the same, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both; and shall forfeit his office and be disqualified from holding any office under the United States. As used in this subsection, the term "office" does not include the office held by any person as a retired officer of the Armed Forces of the United States.
- Heads of Federal agencies are required to notify the Archivist of the United States of any actual or threatened unlawful removal or destruction of records in their custody.
Unlawful or Accidental Removal, Defacing, Alteration, or Destruction of Records (36 CFR 1230.14)
(a) The head of a Federal agency shall report any unlawful or accidental destruction, defacing, alteration, or removal of records in the custody of that agency to NARA (NWML), 8601 Adelphi Rd., College Park, MD 20740-6001. The report shall include:
(1) A complete description of the records with volume and dates if known;
(2) The office of origin;
(3) A statement of the exact circumstances surrounding the alienation, defacing, or destruction of the records;
(4) A statement of the safeguards established to prevent further loss of documentation; and
(5) When appropriate, details of the actions taken to salvage, retrieve, or reconstruct the records.
- Agencies are also required to ensure that departing officials do not remove records from Agency custody.
Agency Recordkeeping Requirements (36 CFR 1222.24)
Agencies shall develop procedures to ensure that departing officials do not remove Federal records from agency custody.
Can I Keep Copies of My Work?
You may keep extra copies of documents if they do not diminish the official record of the Agency, violate confidentiality required by national security, privacy, or other interests provided by law, or exceed normal administrative business economies. NOTE: Extra copies may be considered records for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or discovery. Consult the Agency FOIA Webpage, the FOIA Office, or the Office of General Counsel for additional information or clarification. If you wish to remove extra copies from the Agency, contact your supervisor or manager so they can be reviewed prior to removal to ensure the records do not affect the Agency's ability to invoke various legal privileges.
What Are Personal Papers?
Personal documents which employees keep at work are their own property and may be removed without prior approval. Personal papers are documentary materials of a private nature that do not pertain to or have any impact on Agency business. They generally include the following categories:
- materials accumulated before entering Government service and not subsequently used while conducting Agency business
- materials relating solely to the employee's private affairs; and
- personal notes or correspondence not circulated or communicated in the course of government business.
Personal papers must be clearly designated as such and maintained separately from Agency records. Labeling a document "personal" or "private" does not make it a personal paper. For example, correspondence marked "personal" but relevant to the conduct of public business is an Agency record and subject to the provisions of Federal law governing the maintenance and disposition of federal records.
What About Documents That Contain Both Personal and Official Record Information?
Documents containing some Agency records and some personal information are to be maintained as records. For example, daily calendars containing personal as well as professional appointments are at least partially record material and should be treated as such. Ideally, personal papers should be kept separate from official records on all documents. NOTE: If a FOIA request is received for documents containing both personal and Agency information,the personal material may be deleted or edited. It is important to remember that the FOIA definition of records is more inclusive than the definition used under the Federal Records Act. Employees should contact the Agency FOIA office or the Office of General Counsel for guidance when responding to a FOIA request.
Who Is Responsible for Agency Records Held by EPA Contractors?
Project Officers, Work Assignment Managers and other technical representatives should take adequate steps to safeguard records created, processed, or in the possession of a contractor or a non-Federal entity. Federal law requires that the Agency specify the delivery of all data necessary for the adequate and proper documentation of contractor-operated programs. Moreover, all data created for Government use and delivered to, or under the legal control of, the Government must be managed in accordance with Federal law.
Where Can I Get Additional Information and Assistance?
If you require assistance, training, or clarification about managing or disposing of Federal records or personal papers, contact the Records Liaison Officer for your program or facility, or the National Records Management Program Help Desk. Both contacts can provide schedules and publications to assist you with identifying and managing Federal records and personal papers that fall under your area of responsibility.
If you are aware of or suspect fraud, waste or abuse pertaining to the management or disposition of Federal records by EPA employees, please contact the Office of Inspector General (OIG) at Headquarters or the nearest Divisional OIG. A telephone hotline number to the OIG is available at 202-260-4977. All information is confidential.
For more information...
If you would like to know more about records management at EPA, contact the National Records Management Program (NRMP).