What does NARA mean about closing agency-run records storage facilities?On June 28, the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) established a new rule for federal agencies: “By December 31, 2022, all permanent records in Federal agencies will be managed electronically to the fullest extent possible for eventual transfer and accessioning by NARA in an electronic format.”

That means after 2022 agencies will be required to convert any physical, analog records into electronic format for transfer to NARA. But the guidance leaves open an interesting question: what about the original, analog record itself?

NARA will issue further guidance in 2020.

Its June 28 memo states that “NARA will issue updated regulations and clear policies that permit agencies to digitize records created in analog formats and, where appropriate, dispose of analog originals” by September 30, 2020.

In the meantime, NARA itself still recommends “against disposing of permanent original source records after digitizing until we publish standards for digitizing permanent records as a rule. Agencies should consult with their general counsel on the risks of destroying the permanent original source records before the rule is final.”

In fact, according to 84 FR 14265, effective May 10, 2019, “Original source records do not become non-record copies when they have been digitized. As a result, they must still be treated as Federal records. They become intermediary records and may then be destroyed or retained according to the appropriate records schedule.”

NARA will also be willing to issue exceptions.

The June 28 memo also states that records should be managed electronically “to the fullest extent possible.” However, some analog records may incorporate elements that are not easily reproducible in electronic format, and NARA will, apparently, allow agencies to request exceptions to the electronic rule. A NARA official told the Federation of American Scientists that “agencies could seek an exception for [certain] records.”

It’s not clear at this point what standards NARA will use to evaluate requests for exceptions, but the official said NARA will be flexible in its implementation of the policy, describing it as a “soft disruption.”

Take a cautious approach.

Until NARA produces further clarification, a cautious, conservative approach may be best. Agencies may opt to continue storing the original in addition to the new electronic facsimile. Although agency-run Records Storage Facilities will now be required to close, other analog records storage options will remain open, including using NARA-approved commercial storage facilities or Federal Records Centers (FRC). NARA’s very strong push toward government-wide electronic record keeping suggests they may issue future guidance that disallows or discourages these options, but for now agencies should not act precipitously. A digitization process and platform that can handle both physical and electronic records simultaneously may be helpful.

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