Archives sets rules on e-records

The National Archives and Records Administration issued new guidelines Tuesday for cataloging electronic copies of federal records.

The guidelines, outlined in NARA Bulletin 2000-02, cover copies of program-related records that remain on agencies' "live" e-mail systems, file servers and hard drives.

The Bulletin, which suspends NARA Bulletin 99-04 requirements, allows scheduled records to be destroyed after official copies of those records are filed in an electronic, paper or microform recordkeeping system. Agencies may not dispose of unscheduled records or records not approved for deletion by the Archivist of the United States.

The Archivist may approve the deletion of files if it is decided there is "no administrative, legal, research or other value to warrant their continued preservation by the government."

The new bulletin was released Tuesday to clarify rules on the disposition of e-mail and word-processing files after the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the General Records Schedule 20 in August. GRS 20 has been the center of controversy since 1996 when the public watchdog group Public Citizen sued the Archivist of the United States for violation of the Records Disposal Act.

GRS 20, which governed electronic records scheduling until the suit was filed, allowed for the deletion of word-processing and e-mail files from personal computers to "avoid systems overload and to ensure effective records management."

Public Citizen was opposed to GRS 20 because it allowed files to be stored in paper form instead of requiring agencies to create electronic recordkeeping systems. Public Citizen argued that allowing files to be copied to paper might eliminate pertinent information, such as the name of an e-mail creator.

NARA says there are better alternatives to GRS 20 and will issue new guidelines after completing a comprehensive review, according to a NARA statement.

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