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Part 3. Records Requiring Only Short-Term Retention


General Principles

While conducting business, agencies create a large number of documents that require only short-term retention. Although these documents are useful to individuals in accomplishing their work, the documents are not needed as part of the long-term documentation of Agency activities.

There are four types of short-term documents that commonly occur in offices:

Each type of document is explained below. Such documents must be managed judiciously or they will add greatly to the bulk of the files, and this often lessens the ability of others to understand what actually took place.

It is possible to argue that each of these types of documents does not meet the definition of a record in the Federal Records Act. However, the documents may qualify as records under the FOIA, and the more practical solution is to consider them as record material that needs to be retained for only a brief period of time. A brief period of time is usually defined as no more than 90 days. In many cases, 10 days is sufficient, and often short-term documents can be deleted/destroyed as soon as appropriate action has been taken.


Recordkeeping requirements for specific types of activities may require more complete documentation than other activities and may require that some of the documents described below be retained. Generally these activities are those of major legal, financial, and regulatory importance such as Agency rulemaking files, records of Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) committees, and Superfund site files. Consult the recordkeeping requirements for those activities for further information.

The following general guidance applies to managing all four types of short-term documents:

Paper documents

Electronic documents (e.g., word processing, spreadsheets)

E-mail messages

Transitory Documents

General Principles

Transitory documents are documents of short-term interest which have no documentary or evidential value. Transitory documents are disposable because they clearly do not pertain to the official activities of the Agency.

Three of the most common types of transitory files are:


If transitory documents are to be retained, they should be kept in a separate chronological file, and deleted or destroyed every 90 days, or sooner if no longer needed.

Suspense, Tracking, and Control Documents

General Principles

Individuals create a wide variety of suspense, tracking, and control records to assist them in managing their programs and projects. These may be in the form of documents, but may also include databases, spreadsheets, or other lists, both manual and automated.

Three types of records are readily disposable:


Delete when action has been taken or when superseding documents have been received.

Working Files

General Principles

NARA defines "working papers" as documents such as "rough notes, calculations, or drafts assembled or created and used to prepare or analyze other documents."

There are two principal types of working papers.

As noted in the previous section on identifying Federal records, there are many functions and activities for which specific recordkeeping guidelines have been developed that explicitly identify the types of documentation necessary for complete files. Working papers, including drafts, background information, etc., may or may not be needed as part of the documentation for these activities.

For some files, working papers must be retained for specific periods of time. For example, see EPA 155 - Reports to Congress. Recordkeeping requirements, filing plans, and records schedules are the best source of information about whether working papers need to be retained for the type of activity being documented.


For each type of file or function, always check for existing function-specific or program-specific guidance concerning the documentation necessary for a complete file. Be especially careful in dealing with records pertaining to the legal and financial rights of the Government and those affected by Agency action.

In the absence of specific guidance on retaining working papers, they can be deleted or destroyed 90 days after the completion of the action, or sooner if no longer needed to support the activity.

Specific types of disposable working papers include:

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