Records Managers

Framework for Developing Records Management Guidance

I.      Purpose

This document explains the National Archives and Records Administration's (NARA) framework for developing records management guidance. Simply stated, NARA develops government-wide records management requirements and broadly applicable guidance. Federal agencies are responsible for implementing policies and programs that comply with NARA's requirements and for adapting NARA's guidance in managing their records. Together, NARA's requirements and guidance provide the overall framework for agencies to develop their own specific implementation strategies to fulfill the requirements. NARA provides requirements and guidance to specify the "what" and the "why" and agencies provide the "how" for their individual records management programs. This strategy allows NARA to make the best use of its resources to frame records management practices for the wide variety of Federal agencies.

In general, this document discusses:

  • Agencies' records management policy and program responsibilities including why agencies need the flexibility to develop their own mission-specific implementation strategies1 ;
  • NARA's records management responsibilities including the types of recordkeeping requirements and guidance promulgated by NARA and why those requirements and guidance are designed to be broadly applicable across the Government2 ;
  • Examples of NARA guidance and how agencies can use NARA's guidance to build implementation strategies according to their own business needs.

II.      General Background

NARA helps agencies comply with records management laws and regulations by developing guidance. However, given the wide disparities and unique circumstances among individual Federal agencies, NARA's guidance needs to be applicable to all agencies and delineate what agencies must do to comply with records requirements. Broadly applicable guidance allows agencies the flexibility to determine how best to implement specific recordkeeping requirements given their unique missions, priorities, and budgets.

Federal agencies face significant challenges in developing strategies, policies and programs for managing their records, especially with respect to electronic records, in compliance with Federal records management laws and regulations. NARA will continue to provide leadership in addressing these challenges. However agencies are responsible for mission-specific electronic records issues such as: how to manage a program's web records, how to implement a Records Management Application within their enterprise, and how to manage records created by programs using collaborative technologies such as wikis and blogs.

III.      What records management responsibilities are required of the individual agencies?

Existing laws and regulations under 44 U.S.C. Chapter 31 require Federal agencies to develop and implement records management policies and programs. NARA's regulations provide the high-level requirements for these records management policies and programs in Federal agencies. For example:

Federal agencies must provide adequate and proper documentation by implementing records management policies and programs that:

  • Identify records that need to be created and maintained to conduct agency business;
  • Create and preserve records that document the organization, functions, programs, policies, decisions, procedures, and essential transactions of the agency. This includes records necessary to protect the legal and financial rights of the government and of persons directly affected by the agency's activities;
  • Manage records according to NARA-approved records schedules that determine where and how long records need to be maintained, and transfer permanent records to NARA; and
  • Ensure that agencies address the creation, maintenance, use, and disposition of records such as databases, e-mail, web records, digital audiovisual materials, and records created from new and emerging technologies;

As a way to meet those requirements, each Federal agency should:

  • Develop specific resources that help employees identify records needed to conduct business;
  • Work with existing compliance programs, such as FOIA or Privacy Act, to incorporate records management across the agency.

IV.      What is NARA's responsibility for Records Management Guidance?

NARA has general responsibilities for records management in the Federal government under 44 U.S.C. Chapter 29 and ultimately is responsible for the permanent preservation of those records that have been identified as having historic value. Through regulations, NARA issues recordkeeping requirements for Federal agencies and often works with agency partners to develop government-wide guidance to assist in meeting these requirements.

Examples of these requirements include:

  • Requirements for agency policies, directives, and procedures necessary to comply with regulations;
  • Recordkeeping requirements for government-wide business functions;
  • General requirements for systems that manage and store Federal records;
  • General requirements for RM training programs, including information for new employees.

NARA also provides practical guidance that can be used by Federal agencies in implementing these recordkeeping requirements. This guidance is designed to be broadly applicable and easily implemented by agencies. It may provide answers to specific questions about a given technology or advice about working with other agency programs to support records management. Examples include:

  • Tools to help identify sources of Federal records;
  • Guidance to help integrate recordkeeping requirements in agencies' compliance programs such as Capital Planning and Investment Control, Business Process Design, and the System Development Lifecycle;
  • Frequently asked questions about recordkeeping requirements and records created using new technologies;
  • Selecting Sustainable Formats for electronic systems.

The ongoing review of the Department of Defense Electronic Records Management Software Application Design Criteria Standard (DoD 5015.2-STD, April 2007) and the Federal Enterprise Architecture (FEA) Records Management Profile, version 1.0 (RM Profile, v. 1.0) are examples of the kind of guidance and evaluation that NARA will continue to provide. NARA will also continue to evaluate emerging technologies and will issue guidance when it is warranted, either due to the complex nature of the technology or the implications that the technology may have for Federal records management.

NARA recognizes that, in this time of shrinking resources, agencies can benefit from "how-to" guidance. To meet this need, NARA has developed the Toolkit for Managing Electronic Records as a resource for agencies to share and access examples of records management program documents and other information that can be tailored to meet specific needs. NARA encourages agencies to submit examples of products that can be shared with other agencies via the Toolkit.

NARA has also developed a records management education program that offers a Certification of Federal Records Management Training. This program was developed to raise awareness and improve the effectiveness of Federal records management.

V.      Contact

If you have any questions about this discussion or NARA guidance, please contact the appraisal archivist for your agency. A complete list of contacts can be found on the NARA website at:

1Agency responsibilities are found in 44 U.S.C. Chapter 31.

2NARA responsibilities are found in 44 U.S.C. Chapter 29.

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