USGS Data Management

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Preserve > Disposition
U.S. Geological Survey Data Lifecycle Diagram Plan Acquire Process Analyze Preserve Publish/Share Manage Quality Describe (Metadata, Documentation) Backup & Secure The USGS Science Data Lifecycle
U.S. Geological Survey Data Lifecycle Diagram


Disposition is the final stage in the records lifecycle, resulting in destruction of temporary records or the legal and physical transfer of permanent records to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Federal law requires the proper safeguarding of Federal records and makes it a crime to destroy, alter, manipulate or remove them without the approval of NARA through the USGS Records Officer. Creation and use of any record reflects an investment of organizational assets. Over the past century, the USGS has developed many scientific and historically valuable records which cannot be recreated if they are lost or destroyed. Some of these records are and will become a permanent part of the records of the government to be preserved by NARA for historians and researchers. These records document some of the most important products of the USGS - earth science information, which will help future generations build on the scientific foundations laid by our scientists in the Bureau's first 125 years.

In addition, the USGS creates many short and long term temporary records, some of which can be destroyed in a few years while others may have a lifecycle of 100 years. It is important to understand what a record is and how to manage it through its creation.

Determine records requirements.

What is a Federal record?

A Federal record is any recorded information documenting the work of your office, regardless of who created it or how the information was recorded.

  • Review the data being collected to ensure compliance with administrative and statutory recordkeeping requirements (i.e., Federal Records Act, Privacy Act, Cost recovery, etc.)
  • Data containing proprietary, confidential, private, and other sensitive information must be protected from unauthorized access or use.

What is NOT a Federal record?

  • Nonrecords are duplicate copies of records kept as convenience copies or stock copies of datasets and publications.
  • Personal files are files that do not document government agency work. It may be related to agency topics, but it doesn't document work conducted on behalf of the agency.

Establish and utilize retention schedules.

See the U.S. Geological Survey Listing of all Records Disposition Schedules to ensure that a records schedule has been identified for the series. Each "100" series listed describes related records by topic. Records not listed are treated like permanent records until they are scheduled through the USGS Records Officer and NARA.

Update/modify data.

  • Keep it current.
  • Update Metadata as appropriate for significant changes, as determined by business rules [see Describe > Metdata for more information].

Creating quality data is a continual process; not a static, one-time-only process. If it is determined that the data no longer meet the user's needs, the old data may be archived and new data planned for, acquired, and maintained.

Document the destruction of a record.

USGS tracks all destroyed records in order to respond to requests from Congress, public, or other interested parties seeking these records. Destruction and applying disposition are all suspended if there is active or a reasonable expectation of litigation.

Where can I go for more help?

Contact your local Records Management Contact or the USGS Records Management Program at

Best Practices

  • Determine records requirements - by law, no Federal record can be destroyed without authorization from the Archivist of the United States, and the vehicle for obtaining the authorization is a National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) approved records disposition schedule through the USGS Records Officer.
  • Establish records retention schedules for data that includes metadata describing the data and system documentation.
  • Organize and file routinely to facilitate a complete record for ease of applying the records schedules.
  • When data are significantly updated or modified, corresponding metadata must also be updated.
  • Access to data must be restricted as appropriate.
  • If a record is destroyed, be sure to document it in the USGS Records Move Request Tracking System.

What the U.S. Geological Survey Manual Requires:

By law, no Federal record can be destroyed without authorization from the Archivist of the United States, and the vehicle for obtaining the authorization is a National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) approved records disposition schedule. The NARA-approved USGS General Records Disposition Schedule incorporates all records descriptions and dispositions contained in the NARA General Records Schedules (36 CFR 1225) which are pertinent to USGS operations.

Recommended Reading


  • Chatfield, T., Selbach, R. February, 2011. Data Management for Data Stewards. Data Management Training Workshop. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).