431.3 - Electronic Mail
OPR: Office of Management Services
1. Purpose. This chapter provides U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) policy on electronic mail (E-Mail) messages that are Federal records. Such messages must be printed and preserved in the current official USGS paper filing system. The chapter provides guidance on how to determine which E-mail messages are Federal records as well as individual employee responsibilities for preservation of these records.
A. The Federal Records Act (44 U.S.C. 2904, 3101, and 3102) requires that all Government employees and contractors make and preserve records containing adequate and proper documentation of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, and essential transactions of their agency.
B. 36 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Part 1222.38, lists categories of documentary materials to be covered by recordkeeping requirements.
C. 36 CFR, Part 1234, Electronic Records Management, among other things, covers disposition of records on E-mail systems. It permits deletion of E-mail records on the user's screen or mailbox after the records are preserved in an official recordkeeping system.
3. USGS References.
A. Handbook for Managing USGS Records, Chapter 3, Electronic Recordkeeping.
B. USGS General Records Disposition Schedule.
C. Mission-specific Records Disposition Schedules for the Geologic, National Mapping and Water Resources Divisions.
4. Policy. It is USGS policy to preserve all E-mail messages that are Federal records in accordance with the above authorities. E-mail messages that are not Federal records may be deleted immediately or when no longer needed.
5. When an E-Mail Message is a Federal Record.
A. E-mail messages are records when they meet the definition of records in the Federal Records Act. The definition states that documentary materials are Federal records when they are made or received by an agency under Federal law or in connection with public business; and are preserved or are appropriate for preservation as evidence of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the Government, or because of the information value of the data in them.
B. The intention of this chapter is not to require the preservation of every E-mail message. It is to direct the preservation of those messages that contain information that is necessary to ensure that USGS policies, programs, and activities are adequately documented. An E-mail message may be a record for the creator and also for the recipient when the information it contains is used for separate program purposes. Such information requirements should be the determining factors when E-mail message creators and recipients decide whether a particular message is appropriate for preservation. In making these decisions, all personnel should exercise the same judgment they use when determining whether to retain and file paper records. In case of uncertainty as to whether a message is a record, it should be treated as a record.
C. National Archives and Records Administration regulations list the principal categories of materials, including E-mail, that are to be preserved:
(1) Records that document the formulation and execution of basic policies and decisions and the taking of necessary actions.
(2) Records that document important meetings.
(3) Records that facilitate action by agency officials and their successors in office.
(4) Records that make possible a proper scrutiny by Congress or other duly authorized agencies of the Government.
(5) Records that protect the financial, legal, and other rights of the Government and of persons directly affected by the Government's actions.
D. Examples of E-mail messages that, as with paper records, may constitute Federal records include:
(1) E-mail providing key substantive comments on a draft action memorandum, if the E-mail message adds to a proper understanding of the formulation or execution of bureau action.
(2) E-mail providing documentation of significant bureau decisions and commitments reached orally (person to person, by telecommunications, or in conference) and not otherwise documented in USGS files.
(3) E-mail providing documentation of significant bureau activities (e.g., data on significant programs, specially compiled by offices in response to a management request) if the E-mail message adds to a proper understanding of USGS operations and responsibilities.
6. Responsibilities. Technology does not currently provide official recordkeeping capabilities that meet the National Archives and Records Administration's criteria for long-term electronic storage and retrieval of E-mail messages. Therefore, messages warranting preservation as Federal records must be printed and filed with related records. All USGS employees who create or receive E-mail messages that are Federal records are responsible for:
A. Printing the records, and associated transmission and receipt data (i.e., who sent the message, the addressees and any other recipients, and when it was sent) and attachments. Information about the receipt of messages should be retained if users consider it necessary for adequately documenting bureau activities.
B. Filing the printed records (with any other related records) in their office's official filing system.