Records Managers

Frequently Asked Questions about Records Scheduling and Disposition

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What does disposition mean?

"Disposition" refers to actions taken with regard to Federal records that are no longer needed for current government business as determined by their appraisal pursuant to legislation, regulation, or administrative procedure. Disposition is a comprehensive term that includes both destruction and transfer of Federal records to the National Archives of the United States. For more detailed discussions of disposition and disposition programs, refer to 36 CFR Part 1226 or the Disposition of Federal Records Handbook.

The disposition of both temporary and permanent records requires the prior authorization of the Archivist of the United States. Agencies submit disposition requests to NARA on a Standard Form 115, Request for Records Disposition Authority.

  • Temporary records are those records that NARA approves for either immediate disposal or for disposal after a specified time or event.

  • Permanent records are those that NARA appraises as having sufficient value to warrant continued preservation by the Federal Government as part of the National Archives of the United States.

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What is a records schedule?

A "records schedule" identifies records as either temporary or permanent. All records schedules must be approved by NARA.

A records schedule provides mandatory instructions for the disposition of the records (including the transfer of permanent records and disposal of temporary records) when they are no longer needed by the agency. As part of the ongoing records life cycle, disposition should occur in the normal course of agency business. All Federal records must be scheduled (44 U.S.C. 3303) either by an agency schedule or a General Records Schedule (GRS).

What is an agency schedule?

Agencies are required by law to develop records schedules for all of their records not covered by the GRS (44 U.S.C. 3303). After reviewing their records, agencies submit the schedules for NARA approval on an SF 115, Request for Records Disposition Authority. The SF 115 contains descriptions of record series or systems and disposition instructions for each. These instructions specify when the series is to be cut off, when eligible records are to be moved to off-site storage, when eligible temporary records must be destroyed or deleted, and when permanent records are to be transferred to the National Archives. Schedules may not be implemented until NARA has approved them. Some schedules, especially those containing records relating to financial management, claims, and other related matters, must also be approved by the General Accounting Office (GAO) (44 U.S.C. 3309) before NARA will approve them. Once approved by NARA, retention periods in the schedules are mandatory and authorize the systematic removal of unneeded records from Federal offices.

What is a General Records Schedule?

General Records Schedules (GRS) provide mandatory disposal authorization for temporary administrative records common to several or all agencies of the Federal Government. They are issued by the Archivist of the United States under the authority of 44 U.S.C 3303a(d).

The GRS include records relating to civilian personnel, fiscal accounting, procurement, communications, printing, and other common functions. A general introduction to the GRS and each of the General Records Schedules are available on the NARA Records Management web site.

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How do I develop a records schedule?

Follow these steps to develop a records schedule:

  1. Review the functions and recordkeeping requirements for the agency or the organizational component of the agency whose records will be included on the schedule

  2. Inventory the records.

  3. Determine the period of time the records are needed for conducting agency operations and meeting legal obligations

  4. Draft disposition instructions including:
  • File cutoffs or file breaks (convenient points within a filing plan/system (end of a letter of the alphabet, end of year or month, etc.) at which files are separated for purposes of storage and/or disposition)

  • Retention periods for temporary records

  • Instructions for transferring permanent records to the National Archives of the United States

  • Instructions for sending inactive records to off-site storage

  • Organize the schedule and clear it internally

  • Obtain approval from NARA, as well as from GAO if required by Title 8 of the GAO, "Policy and Procedures Manual for the Guidance of Federal Agencies."
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When should I update the records schedule?

Records schedules remain in effect as long as they are valid, i.e., as long as the nature, content, and functional importance of the records remain the same (36 CFR 1226.14). Agencies should review their schedules at least annually and update them whenever necessary, including within six months after NARA's issuance of changes in the GRS (36 CFR 1226.12). Updates may be needed under the following circumstances:

  • Changes in statutory or regulatory requirements

  • Changes in the nature or responsibilities of the program documented by the records, such as changes resulting from reengineering or reinventing a program or process supported by the records

  • Changes in the function of the records

  • Changes in the way the records are used or the way that staff members use the records to do their work

  • Changes in the content of a series of records by including records previously managed separately or by splitting one series into two or more series

  • Changes in the data collected as part of the electronic recordkeeping system

  • Transfer of functions from one executive department or independent agency to another (36 CFR 1226.14)

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What are the benefits of using records schedules?

Using records schedules

  1. Ensures that the important records are organized and maintained in such a way as to be easily retrieved and identifiable as evidence of the program's activities, especially in the event of an audit, a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, or a discovery in a lawsuit

  2. Conserves office space and equipment by using filing cabinets to store only active paper records and conserves server space by using tapes, disks, and other off-line storage media for electronic records

  3. Saves money by moving inactive files to off-site storage areas until they are ready for final disposition

  4. Helps preserve those records that are valuable for historical or other research purposes

  5. Controls the growth of records in offices through the systematic disposition of unneeded records

Updated 06/06/05

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