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File Plan Guide

References

A file plan lists the records in your office, and describes how they are organized and maintained.

A good file plan is one of the essential components of a recordkeeping system, and key to a successful records management program. It can help you:

File Structure

A file structure is the framework of your file plan. EPA's Agency-wide File Structure is arranged by business functions, records schedules and disposition items and is available in PDF or MS Excel.

Here is an excerpt:

Function Schedule Disposition
Code Title No. Title Item Title
108 Environmental Management 0002 Emissions Inventory System (EIS) a Electronic software program (108 0002a)
108 Environmental Management 0002 Emissions Inventory System (EIS) b Input (108 0002b)
108 Environmental Management 0002 Emissions Inventory System (EIS) c Electronic data (108 0002c)
108 Environmental Management 0002 Emissions Inventory System (EIS) e System documentation (108 0002e)
108 Environmental Management 0002 Emissions Inventory System (EIS) d Output and reports (108 0002d)
404 Technology Management 0004 Electronic Forms Systems a Electronic software programs (404 0004a)
404 Technology Management 0004 Electronic Forms Systems c(1)(a) Electronic blank forms (404 0004c(1)(a))
404 Technology Management 0004 Electronic Forms Systems c(1)(b) Electronic completed forms (404 0004c(1)(b))
404 Technology Management 0004 Electronic Forms Systems c(2) Forms database (404 0004c(2))
404 Technology Management 0004 Electronic Forms Systems e System documentation (404 0004e)
404 Technology Management 0004 Electronic Forms Systems b Input (404 0004b)
404 Technology Management 0004 Electronic Forms Systems d Output and reports (404 0004d)

File Code

A file code is used to represent lengthy titles. EPA's Agency file codes (AFCs) have three components:

graphic showing Agency File Code components

You can use the AFCs to label folders in your paper files:

sample folder label

You can also use the AFCs to label and arrange electronic files. Here is an example of a share drive directory using the AFCs:

sample share drive directory

File Plan

The major steps in implementing a file plan in your office are:

Identifying documentary material

The first step in implementing a file plan for your office is identifying what you have. Whether you are updating an existing file plan or starting from scratch, you will need to do a survey of what documentary material you have, where it is located, and who is responsible for it. It is important to have an understanding of the functions performed in your office.

You need to identify:

There are several ways you can survey the documentary material in your office. A traditional records inventory requires a team of records managers to do a folder-by-folder inventory of all work and storage spaces. Several EPA offices have hired contractors to do inventories. Other offices have used a shorter survey approach, enlisting the help of their network of records contacts and custodians.

Regardless of which method you choose, the final product should be a complete listing of all documentary material created, received and/or maintained by staff and contractors, matched to the appropriate records schedules and disposition items. (See Six Steps to Better Files for details.)

Creating the file structure

Once you have identified what you have, the next step is creating the file structure, by arranging the records schedules and disposition items that apply to the records in your office in Agency file code order.

Add the schedule number and disposition item to the function code to create the AFC. For example, 401 1001a is the AFC for the record copy of property safety inspections:

Function Code, Schedule Number, and Disposition Item in a records schedule

Once you have identified the AFCs, you can copy them from the Agency-wide File Structure spreadsheet and create your own office file plan spreadsheet.

Function Schedule Disposition
Code Title No. Title Item Title
401 Administrative Management 1006 Administrative Management b Other administrative management records (401 1006b)
401 Administrative Management 1006 Administrative Management d Transitory files (401 1006d)
304 Planning and Resource Allocation 1021 Planning and Resource Allocation a Historically significant planning and resource allocation records (304 1021a)
305 Public Affairs 1022 Public Affairs a Historically significant public affairs records (305 1022a)
305 Public Affairs 1022 Public Affairs b Routine public affairs records (305 1022b)
305 Public Affairs 1022 Public Affairs c Short-term public affairs records (305 1022c)
306 Regulatory Development 1023 Regulatory Development and Implementation, and Dockets a Final rulemakings and related development and implementation records (306 1023a)
306 Regulatory Development 1023 Regulatory Development and Implementation, and Dockets c Nonfinal rulemakings and state standards records (306 1023c)

Note: Not all functions in the Agency-wide file structure are represented in the example, since those not used in an office are eliminated during the survey process.

Creating the file plan

Once you have a file structure, the next step is creating the file plan, by adding folder- or document-level details about the records in your office, as well as information about how they are managed.

At a minimum, the file plan should include the following information for each folder or document:

Who?

What?

Where?

When?

You may want to include other information, such as:

During this process, you may need to make decisions on how the records are maintained. For example, you may need to determine:

It is important to include all stakeholders when making these decisions and to obtain management approval of your file plan.

Here is an excerpt from a sample file plan (click to enlarge):

sample File Plan excerpt

Conclusion

Now that you have a file plan, you need to train office staff on how to use it. And, remember that it is a "living" document that should reflect changes to your office (e.g., departing employees, office moves, changes in business). It may need to be updated monthly when the records schedule changes are issued. It must also be reviewed at least annually, when the Agency-wide file structure is revised, to ensure it still covers all of your office functions. A file plan can be a very effective tool when it is carefully planned, documented, and kept up-to-date.


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