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U.S. Geological Survey Manual

U.S. Geological Survey

General Records Disposition Schedule

Prepared by the Geospatial Information Office


May 2009

U.S. Department of the Interior
U.S.Geological Survey

Foreword and Table of Contents | Record of Posted Changes | Information on Official Records | How to use Records Disposition Schedules | Changes in this Issuance | Chapter 100 | Chapter 200 | Chapter 300 | Chapter 400 | Chapter 500 | Chapter 600 | Chapter 700 | Chapter 800 | Chapter 900 | Chapter 1000 | Chapter 1100 | Chapter 1200 | Chapter 1300 | Appendix 1 | Appendix 2

Information on Official Records

  1. General. All U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) employees and contractors are required by law to make and preserve records containing adequate and proper documentation of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, and essential transactions of the agency. These records are of critical importance in ensuring that the USGS documents and preserves its legacy history of agency activities.

  2. What is a Record? 44 U.S.C. Chapter 33, Basic Laws and Authorities of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), defines records as " 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 of data in them." 5 U.S.C. 552(f)(2) clarifies that the term "agency record" includes information stored on computers as well as traditional paper documents.

    In other words - a Federal record is any recorded information relating to the work of an office, regardless of who created it or how the information was recorded.

    The record may provide evidence of the agency's organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, and operations, or may contain information of value. Records may be in paper, film, tape, disk, or any other physical form. They may be generated manually, electronically, or by other means.

  3. What is not a Record? Materials such as library and museum materials made or acquired and preserved solely for reference or exhibition purposes, extra copies of documents preserved only for convenience or reference, and stocks of publications and of processed documents are not records.

  4. Records as Documentation.

    1. Policy and Decision-making. All information supporting agency policy and/or decision-making, regardless of form, is considered to be part of the records of that decision or policy. Record materials include documentation of phone conversations, facsimile copies, electronic mail (e-mail) printouts, meeting minutes, and textual records and should all be kept along with the final record copy of any policy or decision-making document.

    2. Formal Meetings. Meetings of formal bodies such as boards, commissions, advisory groups, committees, task forces, and high-level staff meetings should be properly documented. At a minimum, documentation should include the names and organizational titles of participants, agenda, list of materials distributed to participants, a summary of discussion of significant policy or procedural matters, decisions reached, actions decided upon, actions to be taken following adjournment, and assignments of responsibility. If the meeting is taped and transcription subsequently made and filed, all speakers should be identified on the transcript.

    3. Drafts and Working Files. Support documents such as drafts and working files for reports, special studies, memorandums, and correspondence that support major program policy development may be needed to fully understand the alternatives and options considered for high-level program initiatives and the basis for deciding on a course of action. Some drafts contain unique information in substantive annotations or comments added during circulation for comment or approval. These drafts and working files should be retained with the final document. For further evaluation or guidance of these requirements, USGS personnel should contact their discipline or regional Records Liaison Officer or the USGS Records Management Officer ( for review of the materials.

  5. Contractor Records. Contractors performing agency functions create records essential for effective management and for accurate and complete documentation of these functions. Unless contract provisions explicitly define the documentation to be provided to USGS, contractors are likely to treat needed documentation as private property. Contract provisions should require the submission of program and administrative documentation, including background and technical documents, to the USGS program office responsible for the contract. The contract needs to specify which records are to be kept by the contractor for audit or other administrative purposes and the length of time they are to be maintained. If data deliverables include electronic records, the USGS shall require the contractor to deliver sufficient technical documentation for the USGS to use the data.

  6. Personal Papers. Personal papers are documentary materials or non-records belonging to an individual that are not used to conduct agency business. They are related solely to an individual's own affairs or used exclusively for that individual's convenience. They must be clearly designated as such and always kept separate from the agency's records.

  7. Electronic Records. The USGS has the responsibility for implementing practices to preserve electronically created and stored records including assuring they are properly labeled and indexed. Until such time as the USGS is able to implement an electronic recordkeeping system, employees are required to "print and file" their electronic documents such as e-mail, spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, and word documents. The decision about whether an electronic document is a record needs to be made earlier than for paper records because of the ease of erasing or changing the electronic document. For electronic information systems that produce, use, or store data files, the disposition instructions for the data should be incorporated into the system's design. Also, selection and maintenance of the electronic records storage media and systems for storing the agency records throughout their lifecycle should be well planned early in the project. Given the rapid obsolescence of technology, projects need to plan for the preservation of the records so that they will be able to be read, understood, and accessed until the time for the disposition of the records according to their appropriate USGS records schedule series for the system. In some cases this could be for many years if the records have long-term or historical value.

    The fact that information is created or stored electronically has no bearing upon whether that information is a permanent record, temporary record, or reference material. Status is determined by the same criteria for all information, regardless of the medium in which it is created or stored. The use of electronic media can present management problems for offices since records created electronically can become the basis for official policy decisions. Offices must ensure: (1) integrity of records is maintained, (2) records are retrievable, (3) only authorized records disposal occurs, and (4) records having continuing value can be easily transferred to the NARA. Records authorized for destruction must be destroyed promptly when they become eligible for destruction. Prompt destruction is important because the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) apply to ALL records still in existence, regardless of physical form or eligibility for destruction. A FOIA request for records maintained beyond their authorized destruction date would bar the disposal of such records.

    Offices are responsible for ensuring that all electronic records, regardless of format, are readable throughout their lifecycle (i.e., creation, maintenance and use, and disposition of the records). Records requiring long-term retention, such as permanent records or records which are kept for more than 5 years, should not be retained on floppy disks. These records should be converted to another storage medium, such as magnetic tape, to ensure their continued use and readability. In addition, offices must meet National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) regulations 36 CFR 1234 when selecting electronic records storage media. Records that are designated for long-term retention or for permanent retention at the NARA must be transferred to a medium acceptable by NARA for long-term storage. For more information - see:

    If the same information is stored on more than one medium (such as paper and disk/diskette), the office needs to determine which set of information constitutes the record. Then, the material on the other medium can be considered reference copies and can be discarded. The office is responsible for ensuring that the electronic record form does not contain more accurate or complete information than the hardcopy record before it is destroyed.

    1. Destruction of Electronic Records. Electronic records, like any other Federal record, can only be destroyed in accordance with the USGS' records schedule covering the records. Offices are responsible for ensuring that when the records are eligible for destruction, they are disposed of in a manner that ensures protection of any sensitive or restricted data.

    2. Care and Maintenance of Electronic Records. Because of the transient nature of electronic records, care and maintenance should be high priority. Offices, in collaboration with their computer system administrators, need to ensure that information is accessible for as long as needed. Electronic records require special care, including:
      • keeping the media at the appropriate temperature and humidity;
      • recopying or migrating the information periodically, and
      • testing the readability by annually testing a data sample.

    3. Documentation Required. Adequate and up-to-date technical documentation is required to be maintained. Minimum documentation required is a narrative description of the system; physical and technical characteristics of the records, including a record layout that describes each field including its name, size, starting or relative position, and a description of the form of the data (such as alphabetic, zoned decimal, packed decimal, or numeric), or a data dictionary or the equivalent information associated with a database management system including a description of the relationship between data elements in databases; and any other technical information needed to read or process the records.

    4. Backups. In order to protect USGS data from accidental erasure, disaster, or system malfunctions, a backup procedure should be in place. The frequency of data backups should be determined by the office or their computer system administrators based on the frequency of data changes. Some offices may need daily backups to protect vital records; others may require only weekly or monthly backups. Backups should be stored in a secure, offsite facility that meets NARA standards as defined in 36 CFR Part 1228, Subpart K.

    5. Legal Nature of Electronic Records. Electronic records information may be stored on a variety of magnetic and optical storage devices. The format of an electronic document does not change the fact that it is a record in the legal and practical sense, but its electronic form and its dependence on machines for creation and reference does change the way these records must be stored and managed.

      Electronic records may be admitted in evidence to Federal courts for use in court proceedings (Federal Rules of Evidence 803(8)) if trustworthiness is established by thoroughly documenting the recordkeeping system's operation and the controls imposed on it. Procedures to enhance the legal admissibility of electronic records include: 1) Documenting that similar kinds of records generated and stored electronically are created by the same processes each time and have a standardized retrieval approach. 2) Substantiating that security procedures prevent unauthorized addition, modification, or deletion of a record and ensure system protection against such problems as power interruptions. 3) Identifying the electronic media on which records are stored throughout their life-cycle, the maximum time span that records remain on each storage medium, and the NARA-approved disposition of all records.

    6. Security of Electronic Records. An effective electronic records security program should:
      • Ensure that only authorized personnel have access to electronic records.
      • Provide for backup and recovery of records to protect against accidental loss. Store one backup copy offsite.
      • Ensure that appropriate agency personnel are trained to safeguard sensitive or classified electronic records.
      • Minimize the risk of unauthorized alteration or erasure of electronic records.
      • Ensure that electronic records security is included in computer systems security plans prepared pursuant to the Computer Security Act of 1987 (40 U.S.C. 759 note).
      • Migrate media before hardware, software, or firmware obsolescence occurs.

      For more information on managing electronic records see the USGS Records Management website at

  8. Special Media Records. Special media records such as film, video recording and microform, have unique storage requirements. Storage of the records must meet the requirements in NARA regulations 36 CFR 1232.26 and 36 CFR 1230.20.

  9. E-mail Records. E-mail provides a powerful capability to communicate with ease and efficiency. With this capability comes a responsibility to properly manage any Federal records employees create or receive on e-mail. The Federal Records Act applies to e-mail just as it does to records that are created by any other means. Therefore, until such time as the USGS is able to implement an electronic recordkeeping system, employees are required to "print and file" their e-mail created or received via the USGS e-mail system. See the E-Mail Quick Reference Guide at for more information.

    An e-mail message is determined the same way as it is for traditional paper records. The message is a Federal record if it is made or received in the conduct of agency business and it contains (1) evidence of the agency's organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, or other activities, or (2) information of value documenting meetings, telephone conversations, or similar activities during which policy or agency activities were planned, discussed, or transacted. Multiple copies of a message may be a record for each recipient if they are used for different purposes in the conduct of business or maintained in separate files.

  10. Privacy Act Records. Employees working with records subject to the Privacy Act are responsible for their safekeeping. Records are to be stored in locked files with keys provided only to employees working with the records. A "warning notice" ( should be posted on any file that contains records subject to the Privacy Act. If records are automated, the information must be protected by password and include the Privacy Act "warning notice". The notice informs the system user that the records they are about to access are subject to the provisions of the Privacy Act and are for authorized personnel only. It informs the user that there are criminal penalties for the unauthorized release of information subject to the provisions of the Privacy Act.

    Records subject to the Privacy Act are retained and disposed of in accordance with applicable records disposition instructions contained in the USGS Records Disposition Schedules. If records are transferred to the Federal Records Centers, they must be accompanied by the applicable Privacy Act system notice. Precautions are taken to assure the privacy of the records during the packing and transportation to the Records Centers. When records have met their retention period, they are destroyed in a manner that ensures protection of the data.

  11. Vital Records. Essential agency records that are needed to meet operational responsibilities under national security emergencies or other emergency or disaster conditions (emergency operating records) or to protect the legal and financial rights of the Government and those affected by the Government activities (legal and financial rights records).

    Offices should work with the Bureau Continuity of Operations planners to identify those records needed for performing bureau critical functions. Included would be developing a plan to protect the vital records and assess damage to and the recovery of any records affected by an emergency or a disaster. Also, to protect the records from loss, misuse, and unauthorized information access or modification.

  12. Web Records. Trustworthy records are essential for an agency to meet its legal and internal business needs. Reliability, authenticity, integrity, and usability are the characteristics used to describe trustworthy records from a records management perspective.

    For web site records to have integrity and remain reliable, authentic, and useable for as long as they are needed, they must maintain the content, context, and sometimes structure of the site. A trustworthy web site includes not only the content pages but also information about the web site that relates to the context in which it was created and used. Specific contextual information varies depending upon the business, legal, and regulatory requirements of the business activity. Structural information on the organization of the web site supports its long-term integrity.

  13. Other Federal Records (Blogs, Twitters, Wiki's, Instant Messages, etc.). Until such time as NARA issues guidance for agencies in managing records as mentioned here, the USGS will treat these types as records the same as other electronic records. Therefore, absent an electronic recordkeeping system to manage these types of records, employees are required to "print and file" electronic records from Blogs, Twitters, Wiki's, Instant Messages, etc.

  14. Records Scheduling. The Federal records disposition process is an essential part of the USGS Records Management Program. It provides the legal authority for the USGS to retain and dispose of records in accordance with records disposition schedules developed by the USGS and approved by NARA. The schedules also promote the effective and efficient management of USGS records and ensure that those records, which protect the legal rights and interests of the USGS and the public, are preserved accordingly.

    Implementing the approved records schedule as an agency directive involves training employees on proper records management policies, procedures, and best practices and carefully applying the schedule's provisions to both permanent and temporary records. Records Liaison Officer's, who are the records management experts located throughout the bureau, can assist offices and employees with their efforts to develop, maintain, and implement records management schedules.

    1. Permanent Records. Permanent records are records appraised as being worthy of preservation in the National Archives of the United States. These records have value for historical or other research purposes, document the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other bureau activities, or contain information with which the bureau conducts its business.

    2. Temporary Records. Temporary records are official records that do not have continuing value. Temporary records are records that will not, at the end of specified time period, have sufficient administrative, legal, financial, historical, or other value to warrant further preservations by the U.S. Government.

  15. Unlawful Removal or Destruction of Records. All information received, created, or compiled by Federal Government officials and employees for the use of the Government 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 Records Disposal Act of 1950 prohibits the unlawful destruction, alteration, removal from files, and concealment of official records. The U.S. Criminal Code prohibits the unlawful disclosure of certain information pertaining to national security and confidential business information.

    If records are misplaced or destroyed without proper disposal authority, essential USGS history may be lost and the Survey may not be able to properly respond to information requests. Records without disposition authority may not be destroyed and must be preserved until the USGS can get an approved records schedule applied to the records by NARA.

  16. Access to Classified Materials. No USGS employee, including the most senior officials, may remove classified information from the USGS's control, including copies of classified documents. A designated USGS official may request the declassification of specified documents, but the documents must not be removed until they have been declassified and their removal as non-record copies is authorized. Contact the USGS Records Manager Officer for further information.

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U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, VA, USA
Contact: AO, Office of Policy and Analysis
Last modification: 12-May-2017@08:56
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