What Does NARA Do?

The National Archives and Records Administration is our national record keeper. It is a public trust that safeguards the records on which people of a democratic republic depend for documenting their individual rights, for ensuring the accountability and credibility of their national institutions, and for analyzing their national experience. Both the Government and the public rely on NARA to meet an almost unlimited range of information needs from records. Such records are essential for congressional oversight committees to evaluate agencies, for veterans to prove their entitlements to such benefits as medical care, for citizens to discover their families’ histories, and for Holocaust survivors to trace assets looted from them by the Nazis. These are just a few of the many uses made of U.S. Government records. The records we preserve and make available every day directly affect the lives of millions of our citizens as well as the understanding we have of our nation’s history.3

NARA’s Responsibilities

NARA is responsible for issuing records management guidance; working with agencies to implement effective controls over the creation, maintenance, and use of records in the conduct of agency business; providing oversight of agencies’ records management programs; and providing storage facilities for certain temporary agency records. The Federal Records Act also authorizes NARA to conduct inspections of agency records and records management programs.

NARA works with agencies to identify and inventory records, appraise their value, and determine whether they are temporary or permanent, how long the temporary records should be kept, and under what conditions both the temporary and permanent records should be kept. This process is called scheduling. No record may be destroyed unless it has been scheduled, and for temporary records the schedule is of critical importance because it provides the authority to dispose of the record after a specified time period. Records are governed by schedules that are specific to an agency or by a general records schedule, which covers records common to several or all agencies. According to NARA, records covered by general records schedules make up about a third of all federal records. For the other two thirds, NARA and the agencies must agree upon specific records schedules. Once a schedule has been approved, the agency must issue it as a management directive, train employees in its use, apply its provisions to temporary and permanent records, and evaluate the results.4

Scheduling Records

NARA designates records as permanent if they have sufficient historical or other value to warrant their continued preservation by the Government. Such records may be kept mainly because they document an agency’s origins, organization, functions, and significant transac-

3  

National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). 2000 (revised). Ready Access to Essential Evidence: The Strategic Plan of the National Archives and Records Administration 1997-2007. Available online at <http://www.archives.gov/about_us/strategic_planning_and_reporting/2000_strategic_plan.html>

4  

Government Accounting Office (GAO). 2002. Information Management: Challenges in Managing and Preserving Electronic Records (GAO-02-586). GAO, Washington, D.C., June. Available online at <http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-02-586>.



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