Frequently asked questions about electronic records management global missions outreach
Questions & Answers about Electronic Records
Management particularly pertinent to Federal
Global Missions Outreach
It is essential that Federal Government Agencies manage their
electronic records appropriately. Like all other government records,
electronic records can also be used as evidence in litigation
(eDiscovery). Agencies can be held liable if they keep their electronic
records too long, if their electronic records are not properly destroyed,
or if they are destroyed too soon. Under all of these circumstances,
the Federal Government Agency can be publicly embarrassed by the
events, and can lose significant dollars attempting to protect itself to
produce the required records, to identify the relevant records, or to
recover lost records. Federal Agency’s are required by law to manage
records and this includes electronic records.
This Q&A template has been developed in response to Electronic
Records questions received during a recent TDY and some questions
received from missions via email. It is intended that this Q&A will
assist those mission workers who create, receive, and retain electronic
Q: What are electronic records and how do they differ from paper
A: An electronic record meets the definition of a record, and is
information recorded by a computer that is produced or received in
the initiation, conduct or completion of business. Examples of
electronic records include: e-mail messages, word processed
documents, electronic spreadsheets, digital images and documents
produced in many of the systems owned and operated by Agency.
Electronic records maintained in many Agencies’ consist of information
systems which include financial reports, contracts, personnel
information, Foreign Service information, legal information, etc.
Electronic records differ from paper records in three primary ways:
Frequency-There more of them
Fluidity-Electronic records are always moving, where paper is not
nearly as mobile
Federacy-They are more accessible
Q: Do the electronic records I create and use at work belong to me?
A: No. All electronic records that are created received or stored by
Agency employees are the property of the Federal Government and its
citizens. These records are not the property of its employees,
contractors, or other staff or volunteers. Employees should have no
expectation of privacy when using the Federal Government computer
Q: I sometimes use my home computer to conduct government
business. Am I creating public records?
A: Yes. Records created in the performance of an official function,
regardless of where you are creating or receiving, must be managed
the same way as those created and received using government
computer resources in a government facility.
Q: Could my electronic records be released for the purpose of
A: Electronic records might be released in for litigation or the
eDiscovery process. Computers are provided to employees for
conducting official business. Employees should be prepared to provide
access to their electronic records under these circumstances. This
process usually begins with a litigation hold. Electronic records that
are created using home computers are also subject to eDiscovery.
Q: What are my responsibilities as a government employee who
creates electronic records?
A: The Government employee’s responsibilities for managing
electronic records are the same as those for other records.
Government employees are responsible for organizing their electronic
records so they can be located and used. Government employees are
responsible for using an approved Disposition Schedule to identify how
long electronic records must be kept. Government employees are
responsible for keeping electronic records for their entire retention
period, and for deleting electronic records in accordance with an
approved Disposition Schedule.
Q: What is a Disposition Schedule?
A: NARA (National Archives and Records Administration) requires that
all Federal Agencies manage Federal Records regardless of physical
format and these records are to be managed according to an
approved Disposition Schedule. The records schedule identifies how
long the records must be kept, when they must be destroyed and
when certain records can be sent to NARA for permanent
preservation. No Federal records can be destroyed without the
authorization of an approved Disposition Schedule.
Q: Is there a Disposition Schedule that covers the electronic records
in my mission? There are three responses to this question:
A. Your electronic records may be located within an Information
System that has been scheduled with NARA and that disposition
schedule should be reviewed for disposition instructions.
B. Many electronic records are covered under the General Records
Schedule (GRS), and this should be consulted for disposition
C. If the electronic records in your mission are not covered by the
GRS, and are not located in one of the Information Systems that have
been scheduled by NARA they may be covered under an approved
Agency Records Schedule
Q: What should I do if my electronic records are not listed on a
Disposition Schedule as listed above?
A: You should contact the Information and Records Division for
Q: My mission’s paper records were listed on a Disposition Schedule;
now most of our records are created electronically. Does the
Disposition Schedule still apply?
A: In most cases yes, but there may be exceptions. In most cases the
Disposition instructions are medial neutral. You should contact the
Information and Records Division for assistance if you have questions
determining if the Disposition instructions are applicable.
Q: My mission is buying new software for a database or Information
System, and we do not know which data from the old database or
Information System we need to keep.
A: Electronic records must be retained in accordance with the
Disposition Schedule as indicated, so it is very important that the
database or Information System be scheduled. The schedule will tell
you how long to keep the older data.
Note: Electronic records cannot be destroyed if they have been
requested for eDiscovery, even if their retention period has expired.
It is also important that you consult the Agency Policy for information
regarding the implementation of new software, such as data bases or
Q: How should I store permanent electronic records?
A: Missions should know how long their electronic records must be
retained before they select their storage media for electronic records
that are permanent or have lengthy retention periods; therefore it is
very important that Disposition Schedules be reviewed before
considering storage media. Missions should consider authorized
technology when considering storage media. When considering
storage media for permanent records it is important that the media be
approved by NARA. Currently NARA will receive permanent electronic
records stored on CD ROMs. Information regarding authorized storage
media may be obtained by contacting the Information and Records
Q: Will my older electronic records be accessible when new technology
(hardware and software) is upgraded or changed?
A: Electronic technology is a rapidly changing field. Many electronic
records will require that they be kept longer than the original
technology that was used to create them. New technology is not
always compatible with older technology that missions may have used
in the past. Missions are responsible for ensuring that older electronic
records are migrated to newer systems to remain usable. As older
technology becomes obsolete or unusable due to the evolving field of
electronic records in some missions it may be necessary to contact
CIO office or Information and Records Division for assistance.
Additional guidance for this question is also found in the Agency
Q: Are deleted electronic records permanently destroyed?
A: Not necessarily. Electronic records should be deleted in accordance
with the appropriate Disposition Schedule instructions. However,
deleted electronic records may not be completely deleted from the
system and may still be latent within the Agency infrastructure. For
assistance in deleting electronic records please contact your Agency
Information and Records Division or CIO office.
Q: My mission has piles of records which they would like to convert to
electronic format and destroy the paper files. What is your guidance
in regards to this question?
A: This is a common situation in various missions. There are many
advantages to converting the paper records to an electronic format,
primarily that of space, convenience, and accessibility. Unfortunately
it is not always possible to convert all the paper files to electronic
format and destroy the paper. My response would be this: A. Make
sure they are records that should be kept, and that some if not many
are not subject to deletion due to their Disposition Schedule. A purge
day (purge day=a day when old records past their disposition can be
destroyed) should be scheduled prior to any type of conversion. B.
Some records may be managed in document management data base
and the original copy will have to be placed in an authorized storage
facility until it has reached its disposition. What this does is it affords
the convenience of having an electronic copy and moving the paper to
storage until it has reached its disposition. C. Some paper records
may be copies and the official record may be contained in a scheduled
Electronic Information System. In such cases paper copies need not
be retained, however if one wants to retain the paper copy as a
working copy it may be scanned into the hard drive and e-filed for the
convenience of having an accessible working copy.