Federal employees will create and work with federal and/or presidential records. Records are more than documents in a filing cabinet. They can include emails, voicemails, texts, social media posts, and much more. It is vital that government employees understand what a record is and how it should be properly managed. It is also important to remember the records and information you create and receive in the course of your official duties must remain under control of the government. This allows future officials to build upon your work.
Records Management provides a rational basis for making decisions about what records to save and what to discard. These decisions are necessary to support the mission, legal, fiscal, administrative, and other needs of the government. Implementing good records and information management practices helps agencies:
- Minimize costs and operate efficiently.
- Adequately and properly document agency actions and decisions.
- Identify and transfer permanently valuable records to the National Archives.
Presidential record keeping
Presidential records are, “...documentary materials, or any reasonably segregable portion thereof, created or received by the president, the president's immediate staff, or a unit or individual of the Executive Office of the President whose function is to advise or assist the president, in the course of conducting activities which relate to or have an effect upon the carrying out of the constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties of the president” (44 U.S.C. § 2201(2)).
These records can be in a variety of formats, including paper documents, photographs, motion picture film, tape recordings, and electronic records. The Presidential Records Act governs presidential records, rather than the Federal Records Act. The White House Liaison Division of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) can provide guidance and assistance on presidential records issues. For any questions or to receive further information, please reach out to email@example.com.
The Presidential Records Act (PRA) applies to records created by components of the Executive Office of the President that solely advise and assist the president. The Federal Records Act does not cover the records of these components. Even within the EOP, some components generate Federal records, while others generate presidential records. Components of the EOP that generate presidential records include:
- The White House Office
- The Office of the Vice President
- Office of Policy Development
- Council of Economic Advisors
- The National Security Council
- The National Economic Council
- The President’s Intelligence Advisory Board
- The President’s Intelligence Oversight Board
- The Office of Administration
Presidential Records Act
Established in 1978 and amended in 2014, the PRA requires elevated diligence in the management and maintenance of Presidential Records.
The PRA of 1978, 44 U.S.C. §§ 2201-2209, as amended, governs all official Presidential and Vice Presidential records created on or after January 20, 1981. The PRA changed the legal ownership of the official records of the President from private to public and established a new statutory structure under which Presidents must manage their records.
The Presidential Records Act
- Defines and states public ownership of the records.
- Places the responsibility for the custody and management of incumbent Presidential records with the President.
- Allows the incumbent President to dispose of records that no longer have administrative, historical, informational or evidentiary value, once he/she has obtained the views of the Archivist of the United States on the proposed disposal.
- Requires that the President and his/her staff take all practical steps to file personal records separately from Presidential records, and establishes a process for restriction of public access to these records.
- Allows for public access to Presidential records, including through the Freedom of Information Act, beginning five years after the end of the Administration, but allows the President to invoke as many as six specific restrictions to public access for up to twelve years.
- Establishes procedures for Congress, courts, and subsequent Administrations to obtain special access to records that remain closed to the public.
- Requires treating Vice Presidential records in the same way as Presidential records.
PRA has records management authority for Presidential records
The PRA gives records management authority for incumbent Presidential records to the President and states that personal records should be kept separate upon their creation or receipt from the Presidential record files (44 U.S.C. § 2203(b)). Those responsible for maintaining file systems must keep personal records separate from Presidential records at the point of creation.
Personal records remain the personal property of the President
Just as with Federal records, some materials that you maintain in your office are personal records. As defined by the PRA, personal records are documentary materials, “...of a purely private or nonpublic character which do not relate to or have an effect upon the carrying out of the constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties of the President,” and which include, “...materials relating to private political associations,” and, “...materials relating exclusively to the President’s own election to the office of the Presidency” (44 U.S.C. § 2201(3)). Personal records would also include photographs, audio recordings, and videotapes of family events and gatherings. Personal records remain the personal property of the President or the record creator. Records creators should identify personal documents and file them separately from those files which contain Presidential records. Clearly defined filing systems will ensure that questions concerning record status do not arise. Should items mix, it becomes difficult to determine record status. Because the President has the responsibility to identify what is personal material, this determination should be made during the incumbent’s term of office rather than after transfer of the records to the National Archives and Records Administration.
Presidential records cannot be deleted or destroyed
The PRA requires that the incumbent President must obtain the views in writing of the Archivist before disposing of the originals of any Presidential records (44 U.S.C. 2203(c)-(e)). Under certain circumstances, the Archivist must inform Congress of the proposed disposal. In these cases, the President must wait at least 60 legislative days before disposing of them. After the President’s term, the Archivist has authority to dispose of Presidential records, following a public notice and comment period (44 U.S.C. 2203(g)(4)).
White House Liaison Division of NARA can provide assistance and guidance for Presidential records.
For any questions or to receive further information, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Federal records are all recorded information, regardless of form or characteristics, made or received by a Federal agency under Federal law or in connection with the transaction of public business. Federal records are more than just final memos, reports and publications. They are the emails, chats, text messages, drafts, spreadsheets and other files federal employees and contractors create on a daily basis as they carry out their job duties. A strong records management program is a key part of any agency’s information governance structure and should work closely with the agency’s privacy, open data, and open government programs. Agencies must preserve federal records as evidence of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations or other activities of the United States Government or because of the informational value of the data in them until authorized to either dispose of them as temporary records or transfer them to the National Archives as permanent records. For more information, see the Federal Records Act.
When entering Federal service, it is important to lay the foundation for good records and information management. NARA serves as the primary source for records management information in the federal government. However, Federal employees should contact their Federal Agency Records Officer for a briefing on the specific recordkeeping requirements they must follow.
Transition specific briefing materials
When preparing for the entrance and exit of political appointees, agencies should:
- Start as early as possible in each phase of service.
- Integrate records management training into existing practices and procedures.
- Ensure appropriate staff have cleared the removal of any material by individuals.
It is important to remember the records and information you created and received in the course of your official duties must remain under control of the agency. Following Federal records management requirements ensures proper documentation and preservation of official actions and decisions for future generations. NARA has produced four guidance products to assist agencies and political appointees during the transition:
- Model Records and Information Management Entrance and Exit Checklists [DOC]
The Documenting Your Public Service guide provides all Government employees, including senior agency officials and political appointees, with information regarding their responsibilities for managing Federal records. Knowledge of this guidance and careful advance planning will aid employees throughout their Federal service. The guide describes the responsibilities all government employees must follow for managing the Federal records they create or receive. The guide will help you understand what a Federal record is, what are personal materials, how to handle electronic messages and social media accounts, and more. The handout is a one page summary of the points made in the video briefing, for distribution throughout your agency and sharing with political appointees. The Model Federal Records and Information Management Entrance and Exit Checklists [DOC] describe basic common records management responsibilities and tasks all individuals should complete when entering or leaving Federal service. This guidance does not apply to Presidential records created under the Presidential Records Act (PRA). Refer questions related to determining whether or not documentary materials are Presidential records to the White House Counsel.