Records Retention Guidelines for Federal Agencies

Managing, maintaining and allowing a secure flow of data is one of the most important aspects for federal agencies.  Also of great significance is the retention of that very same data.  Where is the data stored?  For how long?  Where does it go after the retention period is fulfilled?  These questions vary based on the agency, and depend on a number of factors like the type of information and the original source.

Perhaps one of the most challenging pieces to the puzzle is that not all information and data is treated the same.  This makes it difficult to determine retention guidelines for every individual record.  There are a few factors to take into consideration before becoming overwhelmed with devising a records retention system.  These include the information source, type of record, type of agency and Freedom of Information Act requirements.

According to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) most records typically fall into one of three categories.  These include permanent records, temporary records and ones that are difficult to evaluate because they fall somewhere in between.  Certain information and records like laws, executive orders, financials and court rulings are clearly of permanent value.   On the other hand, administrative information or records containing causal correspondence are of temporary value and not required to be retained long term.  Records that fall between these two categories are difficult to appraise because they contain information that is specific to the agency and its unique functions.

Records that fall in between permanent and temporary are the hardest to evaluate and place in a records retention schedule.  This is one of the reasons why federal agencies seek out the resources of a document management company that can assist in creating a records retention plan of action.  Not only is records retention about holding on to information for a specific period of time, but it’s just as critical to make that information accessible while it’s being held under the schedule.  A document management company can help in the appraisal of documents, establishing a schedule and providing convenient access to the information while it’s retained.

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