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CG-611 Management Programs and Policy Division

Washington, DC

Records Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is a Record?
  2. What is NOT a Record?
  3. What is a Record Disposition Schedule?
  4. When are e-mail messages Records?
  5. Do you have to manage incoming and outgoing e-mail as Records?
  6. Are e-mail systems reliable enough for transmitting official messages?
  7. Can e-mail be an official Record if it is not signed?
  8. If an e-mail record is sent to several recipients, which copy is the official record?
  9. If working on draft material, is it sufficient to save just the last draft?
  10. Do these guildlines apply to CG contractors?
  11. Are there special requirements for retainin e-mail messages as Records?
  12. Why is it necessary to keep the transmission data about the sender, receiver, date and time of the e-mail?
  13. What about attachments to an e-mail message? Do I have to keep them as well?
  14. If my outgoing message is a Record, should I ask for a return receipt to make sure that the person I sent it to got it?
  15. Do I need to retain both the orginal message and the reply?
  16. How long do I need to keep e-mail Records?
  17. What if the message does not qualify as a Record?
  18. Where do I keep e-mail Records?
  19. Does this mean that I need to print out all my e-mail messages?
  20. Can I keep the Records in the e-mail system?
  21. Can e-mail Records be kept on backup tapes or disks?
  22. Do I need to retain both and electronic and a hard copy for the same e-mail message?
  23. Does FOIA apply to e-mail messages?
  24. What do I do about e-mail messages that contain sensitive information such as classified proprietary or Privacy Act information?
  25. What is the Tobacco Industry Litigation Records Freeze?
  26. What is Unauthorized Removal of Records?
  27. What is Unlawful Removal Alienation or Destruction of Records?

1. What is a Record

Records include all books, papers, maps, photographs, machine readable materials, or other documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received by an agency of the United States Government under Federal law or in connection with the transaction of public business and preserved or appropriate for preservation by that agency or its legitimate successor as evidence of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the Government or because of the informational value in them. (44 U.S.C. Chapter 33, Sec. 3301).

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2. What is NOT a Record?

Materials such as library or museum materials used solely for reference and exhibit purposes, extra copies of records kept for convenience of reference, and stocks of publications and processed documents are not records- they, however, do belong to and are controlled by the government. 

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3. What is a Record Disposition Schedule?

A "records schedule" identifies records as either temporary or permanent. All records schedules are approved by the National Archives and Records Administration (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).

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4. When are e-mail messages Records?

You should treat e-mail messages the same way you treat paper correspondence. An e-mail message is a record if it documents the CG mission or provides evidence of an CG business transaction and if you or anyone else would need to retrieve the message to find out what had been done or to use it in other official actions.

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5. Do you have to manage incoming and outgoing e-mail as Records?

Yes, you should apply the standard described above to both incoming and outgoing e-mail. The reason is that both sender and recipient of e-mail messages have the responsibility to document their activities and those of their organizations. Both the sender and the recipient have to determine whether a particular e-mail message is a necessary part of that documentation.

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6. Are e-mail systems reliable enough for transmitting official messages?

Yes, e-mail systems are highly reliable for transmitting messages. However, you should use e-mail for business only when you are reasonably sure that the message will not be altered after transmission. Consider the nature and sensitivity of the message, the technology involved, and the persons with whom you communicate when you decide to use e-mail for business.

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7. Can e-mail be an official Record if it is not signed?

Yes, a signature does not make something a record. Many types of records, such as manuals, reports, photographs, and maps, do not contain signatures, but they can still be records.

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8. If an e-mail record is sent to several recipients, which copy is the official record?

It depends. Different copies of the same message may be records. If you take any official action related to a message, and if the message is needed for adequate and complete documentation of the action, the message would be a record in your office, regardless of whether copies are retained elsewhere. If the record is in your office's official files, then your copy is not a record and you may delete it. If you receive a message only for information and do not take action related to it, your copy would not be a record.

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9. If working on draft material, is it sufficient to save just the last draft?

In some cases the last draft may be sufficient, and in other cases not. Follow your Program Office's policy concerning what drafts you must keep. This policy should be available in the form of recordkeeping requirements for the type of work you are doing.

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10. Do these guildlines apply to CG contractors?

Yes, these guidelines apply to CG contractors and other agents, as well as CG employees. Contract terms should ensure that contractor systems satisfy legal requirements for creating and maintaining adequate and complete records of CG transactions when those transactions are carried out by contractors.

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11. Are there special requirements for retainin e-mail messages as Records?

The basic requirements that apply to all records apply to e-mail records as well. However, there are some specific requirements for records made or received through e-mail. You should make sure that:

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12. Why is it necessary to keep the transmission data about the sender, receiver, date and time of the e-mail?

You would not delete the names of the sender and addressee, the date, or a time stamp from a letter on paper. The data identifying the sender and recipient(s), the time and date the message was sent, and, on the recipient(s) copy, the time and date it was received are equally essential elements that constitute a complete e-mail record.

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13. What about attachments to an e-mail message? Do I have to keep them as well?

Yes, you do. If a message qualifies as part of the documentation of your activities, you need to make sure that related items that provide context for the message are maintained as well. This includes attachments. You would keep them under the same conditions that you would if they were paper attachments to a paper memo or incoming letter

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14. If my outgoing message is a Record, should I ask for a return receipt to make sure that the person I sent it to got it?

It is not necessary to ask for a return receipt or read receipt in e-mail any more than it is necessary in hard copy. We don't send all letters certified mail. If it is important to document for the record the time that a message was opened, then that receipt must be retained along with the message for as long as the message is retained. You also need to have some means of linking the receipt to the message so it is clear what outgoing message the receipt documents.

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15. Do I need to retain both the orginal message and the reply?

The requirement is to create and maintain understandable record documenting activities. Some replies to e-mail messages contain enough information from the original message that they can stand on their own, but most do not. The simplest way to ensure understandability of e-mail messages that will become part of the record is to incorporate the original message in any reply and maintain them as a unit. If e-mail is sent back and forth and the most recent message has the entire sequence of messages, you need to keep only the final message (including the previous messages and replies) as long as it also contains attachments and other data such as the sender, receivers, date, and time, that are necessary for a complete record.

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16. How long do I need to keep e-mail Records?

Retain e-mail records in accordance with your office's file plan and COMDTINST M5212.12A, Information and Life Cycle Management Manual. The exact length of time will vary depending on the activity that the message documents.

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17. What if the message does not qualify as a Record?

Delete e-mail that is not a record when no longer of use.

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18. Where do I keep e-mail Records?

You should store e-mail records in an approved recordkeeping system. This system may be either paper or electronic. In either case, the recordkeeping system must:

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19. Does this mean that I need to print out all my e-mail messages?

No. First of all, not all of your e-mail messages will be records. Second, if your organization has an electronic system to manage messages that qualify as records, the records should be maintained in that system. However, if no such system exists, you should print out the messages that qualify as records and file them in your organization's files

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20. Can I keep the Records in the e-mail system?

No. Once you determine that an e-mail message is an official record, you should ensure that it is kept in an approved file system that satisfies the requirements for recordkeeping set out above. You may, of course, retain your personal copy in your personal e-mail, but you must ensure that the record is placed in an approved file system.

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21. Can e-mail Records be kept on backup tapes or disks?

No, backups created to facilitate restoration of a system or file in case of accidental or unintentional loss are generally ill-suited for recordkeeping purposes. However, in cases of FOIA requests, e-mail records on backup tapes may be searched and retrieved.

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22. Do I need to retain both and electronic and a hard copy for the same e-mail message?

No, if you retain the entire record in either form, and it is properly filed in an approved file system, you do not need to retain both electronic and hard copies.

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23. Does FOIA apply to e-mail messages?

Yes, e-mail is subject to the FOIA, and its release is subject to the same FOIA exemptions that apply to other agency records.

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24. What do I do about e-mail messages that contain sensitive information such as classified proprietary or Privacy Act information?

If you receive e-mail containing sensitive information, apply the same standards and precautions to that e-mail containing sensitive information as you would to the same information in any other medium.

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25. What is the Tobacco Industry Litigation Records Freeze?

This order derived from the United States v. Philips Morris, Inc. Court Order. Under this order all CG records including those stored in a National Archives and Records Administration Federal Records Center are frozen and may not be destroyed. The litigation involves allegations that tobacco industry has, since 1950's, deceived federal and state governments and the citizens of the United States with respect to, among other thing the health risk associated with smoking, the addictive nature of tobacco products, and the industry's efforts to target and attract youth smokers.

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26. What is Unauthorized Removal of Records?

What's Yours? What's Not Yours? What Can You Take? What Can't You Take?

It doesn't matter if you're leaving government service completely; going from a job in one government agency to a job in another government agency; or just moving from one job to another job in the same government agency.

It doesn't matter if you're a Senior Executive Service office director around for the duration of a presidential term; a long time career mid-level manager; or an introductory level employee new to the government. The same rules apply to you. You just can't arbitrarily take materials with you when you move from job to job or leave public service. As a matter of fact, criminal penalties can be placed against you for the unlawful removal of Federal records.

The Records Disposal Act specifies that records of the U. S. Government may not be removed or destroyed except as provided under the Act. None of its provisions permit employees to remove records. In addition, the Act requires agencies to establish safeguards against the removal or loss of records- and initiate action to recover unlawfully removed records.

Calendars, appointment books, and journals are sometimes difficult to classify because they often contain both personal and work- related information. You must review this situation very carefully. If your calendar was distributed to others for an official purpose it very well may be a record. Or, if the calendar was placed in an agency file, it is likely to be an agency record. To avoid this kind of issue, keep two calendars- one for your personal activities and another to document work activities.

You may keep extra copies of Government records use for research or convenience of reference in your office or on your personal computer. You must, however, obtain permission from the appropriate records officer before you remove any of these materials for personal use. When moving or leaving Government service, you are free to take records of a purely personal nature with you. You must, however, incorporate all other materials into your office's record keeping system so that they may be accessible to all personnel who may need them.

Determining whether a document is a record does not necessarily depend on whether it is an original or a copy. Multiple copies of the same document may each have record status if they each serve a separate administrative purpose and are controlled under different filing systems.

According to government record keeping practices, you should file personal papers separately from agency records and clearly label them as personal papers. This applies to electronic documents as well. When you have a document that contains both official and personal information, you must copy or extract the information relating to government business and incorporate it into your agency files. You can then file the document with your personal papers. Depending on the circumstances surrounding their creation, maintenance and use, and disposition, personal papers may, when deciding Freedom on Information (FOIA) cases, be determined to be agency records. "Agency records" for the purposes of FOIA has a broader definition than found in 44 USC 3301.

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27. What is Unlawful Removal Alienation or Destruction of Records?

All information received, created, or compiled by federal government officials and employees for use in conducting government business is the property of the U.S. Government. No federal officials or employees have, by virtue of their position, any personal or property right to official records, even though they may have helped develop or compile them. The unlawful destruction, alteration, removal from files, and concealment of official records is prohibited by The Records Disposal Act. The unlawful disclosure of certain information pertaining to national security and confidential business information is prohibited by the U.S. Criminal Code, Title 18 and provisions of the Privacy Act (5 USC 552a) (reference (b).

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Last Modified 9/19/2013