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431.3 - Records Management Requirements and Electronic Mail and Instant Messages



Date: 04/05/2019

OPR: Office of the Associate Chief Information Officer

Instruction: This revises Survey Manual (SM) Chapter 431.3 – Electronic Mail, dated May 31, 1996.


1.  Purpose. This SM chapter provides policy on creation, preservation and use of electronic messaging and instant messages for conducting agency business and meeting recordkeeping requirements.


2.  Scope. This SM chapter applies to U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) employees, including Federal employees, contractor personnel and others (also known as affiliates, a term that includes but is not limited to guest researchers, emeritus, cooperators, and volunteers) who are funded by USGS or representing the Bureau.


3.  Authorities.

A. 44 U.S.C. Chapters 29, 31, Federal Records Act, as amended November 26, 2014

B. 36 CFR 1222, Creation and Maintenance of Federal Records

C. 36 CFR 1236, Electronic Records Management

D. Office of Management Budget Circular A-130, Managing Information as a Strategic Source  

E. 382 Departmental Manual 11, Managing Records in Electronic Form


4.  References.

A. SM 432.1, Files Management

B. USGS Handbook for Managing USGS Records, 432-1-H

C. DOI Departmental Records Schedules (DRS), DAA-0048-2013-0001

D. USGS Records Disposition Schedules


5.  Policy. The USGS is required to preserve information in any format that documents USGS activities, policies, or procedures. E-mail and instant message capabilities are tools that may contain Federal records requiring preservation and production. 

A. E-mail with associated attachments, and instant messages are records when they meet the definition of a Federal record as defined by the Federal Records Act. They document communications, decisions, plans and other administrative, managerial or scientific activities and include the following:

(1) Records that document the formulation and execution of basic policies and decisions and the taking of necessary actions;

(2) Records that document meetings;

(3) Records that document decisions and actions by agency officials and their successors in office;

(4) Records that can explain the development and evolution of plans, strategies, and actions that can meet public scrutiny by Congress, public, or other duly authorized agencies of the Federal Government; and

(5) Records that protect the financial, legal, and other rights of the Government and of persons directly affected by the Federal Government’s actions.

B. An e-mail may be preserved as a record by both the creator and the recipient when they use the information it contains for different purposes. It is the role of the recipient and the sender to review the information to determine if it is a record requiring preservation based on the employee’s duties and the office functions. All USGS employees should exercise the same judgment they would 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. Examples of e-mails or instant messages that may constitute Federal records include:

(1) E-mail, attachments, or instant messages providing key substantive comments on a draft action memorandum, if the content adds to a proper understanding of the formulation or execution of Bureau action;

(2) E-mail, attachments, or instant messages 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 such as a memo for the record; and

(3) E-mail, attachments, or instant messages providing documentation of significant Bureau activities such as data on significant programs that are compiled by offices in response to a management request or if the content adds to a proper understanding of USGS operations and responsibilities.


6.  Definitions.

A. Electronic Mail or e-mail is a communication tool used to share information and files, raise questions, seek approval, and facilitate other business tasks.  E-mail is intended for conducting government business through a secure system using e-mail accounts issued by the Government that provide organizational content such as agency name or abbreviation.

B. Federal Records include 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 the records (44 U.S.C. 3301).

C. File Codes are the Records Management Program assigned numeric designation for grouping records to facilitate access, arrangement, and standardized filing by all parts of the organization.

D. Instant Messages are informal electronic communications that reside in an electronic mail system for real time informal discussions that may contain records.

E. Litigation Holds are preservation orders for pending or expected litigation that requires ongoing preservation in the original format to preserve metadata, or descriptive contextual system information for the e-mail and instant messages.

F. Nonrecords are government-owned informational materials excluded from the legal definition of records or not meeting the requirements of that definition. Nonrecords include extra copies of documents kept only for convenience or reference, stocks of publications and of processed documents, and library or museum materials intended solely for reference or exhibition.

G. Personal Files are those files in any format that do not document agency business. These may include personal files stored for convenience, documents pertaining to membership in professional societies where the individual was not representing the USGS or the Department of the Interior, or work created while not employed with the USGS.  It may be related by subject to your work but not part of your official duties.  These are also referred to as personal papers.

H. USGS Employees are individuals who are employed, contracted with or volunteer to conduct business on behalf of USGS or the Department of the Interior.


7.  Responsibilities.

A. Associate Directors, Regional Directors, Science Center Directors, and Office Chiefs are responsible for ensuring their staff identify and preserve e-mail and instant messages that are Federal records in any format either through an automated process or a manual intervention and filing them with the related records.

B. Records Officer is responsible for the appropriate identification and preservation of Federal records in any format including e-mail and instant messages through the development of policies, procedures, training, and evaluating compliance of these requirements. 

C. Litigation Coordinator is responsible for coordinating with USGS personnel and the Office of the Solicitor, Department of the Interior for identifying, preserving, producing and responding to data calls timely. This includes e-mail and instant messages that are relevant to pending litigation.

D. Supervisors are responsible for ensuring employees identify and preserve Federal records; destroy nonrecords; and segregate personal files. In the case of litigation holds, supervisors ensure that existing employees identify information (records and nonrecords) for continued preservation. Supervisors are required to ensure ongoing preservation of relevant litigation information even after their personnel leave employment.

E. USGS Employees are responsible for preserving e-mail and instant messages that meet the definition of a Federal record in office files that enable the access and use by appropriate personnel prior to completion of the project, activity and before departing the agency. Office filing requires infrastructure such as filing cabinets, network drives, or cloud-based sharing repositories that enable personnel with network or office access to review the files that are not isolated and don’t require a specific individual’s login name and password.

(1) Identifying and storing e-mails, associated attachments, and transmission and receipt data such as sender, recipients, and sent date when required as context for non-e-mail records. Information about the receipt of messages should be retained if users consider it necessary for adequately documenting Bureau activities.  E-mails should be stored with the related records outside of individual e-mail systems for appropriate access by Bureau personnel.

(2) Filing the records, print and file or file electronically as appropriate, with any other related records in the related office files organized by USGS filing codes listed with the records schedules.

(3) Ensuring records referenced in electronic communications but not actually attached to e-mails are appropriately preserved and retrievable.

(4) Prior to exiting the Bureau, employees are required to notify their supervisor and coordinate with the Litigation Coordinator regarding any e-mails and associated attachments, which are relevant to pending or expected litigation.


8.  Government e-mail and Instant Messages Use Exception. Government issued electronic mail and instant message are tools for documenting and communicating Bureau activities that require proper handling for documenting USGS work.

A. USGS employees are issued Government accounts for conducting agency business to ensure appropriate access and controls on government information.

B. USGS employees are not authorized to use non-Federal e-mail accounts for conducting agency business except under specific conditions (refer to Section 8C below).

C. USGS employees may only use non-Federal messaging accounts temporarily and on a limited basis for time-sensitive issues when the Government e-mail system is not accessible. Under these conditions, USGS personnel are required to document in the Government e-mail system in accordance with the following:

(1) For e-mails sent by USGS personnel, copying the government e-mail account for any electronic messaging account of the officer or employee in the original creation or transmission of the record; or

(2) For e-mails received by personal accounts, employees must forward a complete copy of the record to the government issued e-mail account of the officer or employee not later than 20 days after the original creation or transmission of the record.


9.  Use of Governmental E-Mail and Instant Messages for Non-Federal Work. Many USGS employees engage in activities with professional societies or other external organizations related to the work they perform as government employees, but they are not serving as the Bureau representative for the external organization. These are personal files and not Federal records, and they should not reflect your Bureau organizational information in the signature block. USGS employees engaged in these outside activities are prohibited from using government issued instant message accounts for conducting this personal business. USGS employees should use a private e-mail account, or an account affiliated with the external organization that they are a member of. 


10.  Access for Data Calls.

A. The USGS has a legal obligation to search and produce any relevant records to current or pending litigation. Therefore, records and nonrecords, including e-mails in active email systems or individually managed archives, of all current and former employees require ongoing preservation. 

B. Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), litigation holds or for congressional requests for information, USGS is required to conduct a reasonable search for e-mails and instant messages relevant to the request including any applicable e-mails. When a request is received, records' disposition is suspended. This action is required even for records that have reached their disposition date. However, routinely applying legally obtained disposition authority to eligible records prevents production if they are destroyed or deleted prior to receiving a request.


For any questions regarding the use of e-mail or instant messages and records management requirements, please e-mail



/s/ Katherine M. McCulloch                                                            04/05/19

Associate Director for Administration