Step 1. Understand the Scope of the Problem
The keys to good filing practices are:
- Filing only what you need to file;
- Filing it in a way that facilitates access and disposition; and,
- Doing it consistently.
To do this you first must analyze your program's records management needs by determining what records are most important to your program, who should be responsible for them, and where they should be located. To start the process take some time in your regularly scheduled unit meetings to discuss the four questions posed below. The unit head (division director, branch chief, or section head) should lead the discussion.
Question 1: What does your program do that needs to be documented?
Brainstorm about the types of records created in your program. Examples might include permit files, project files, reports, publications, time cards, personnel files, contract files, and so on. Develop a list and group similar types of records, such as multiple correspondence or subject files, together into series (see the box). The series is the basic unit for organizing and controlling your files.
What is a Records Series?
Series are those file units or documents kept together because they relate to a particular subject or function, result from the same activity, document a specific type of transaction, take a particular physical form, or have some other relationship arising out of their creation, receipt, maintenance, or use. The series concept is a flexible one, and programs should be careful to create series by organizing their documents in ways that facilitate management of the records throughout their life cycle.
Question 2: Which of these records series are important to your program?
Look at each type of record and decide why it is created and maintained. Your program may be required to create and maintain records for a number of valid reasons including program administration, management reporting, statute, Federal regulation, Agency policy or procedures. There are less valid reasons too, such as reference and personal convenience. Frequently the only justifications for maintaining files are personal ones such as "I need the records for reference", "Joe wanted me to keep a copy," "somebody may ask for it", and "I don't trust anyone else to keep it."
If you are honest, you will probably find that many of the series on the list for your office are working files, files maintained simply for convenience, or reference materials. Put those aside for now, and concentrate your attention on the files that directly support EPA's mission or administration. These are the records without which your program could not function. They are the ones you need to control. Identifying these records is the most important and the most difficult step in the files improvement process. Once that is completed the next two questions are easy.
Question 3: Who should be responsible for each of the records series?
This person, usually called the file custodian, may be a secretary or administrative officer, or a technical specialist, or the unit head. Generally there should be only one custodian per series (obviously each staff person is responsible for his or her own working files).
Question 4: Where should each series be located?
Identify the location, often called the "file station". Take this information and develop a matrix (see the sample below) that lists all of your records series, the person responsible and the file station.
To cover all of the items above will probably take more than one meeting, which is why we're allowing two months for this first step. Once the four questions are answered, you will have a theoretical framework for understanding and controlling your files. In Step 2, the records inventory, you will match this construct to reality.
|Contract files||Paul Goodman|
|Div. file cabinet|
|Permit files||Pam Butler|
|Correspondence files||Cindy Clark|
|Ann Arbor Study||Tim Haas|