Frequently Asked Questions
Records management is the systematic control of all records (regardless of storage media) from creation or receipt through processing, distribution, use, retrieval, and maintenance to their ultimate disposition. The policies, procedures, and rules that govern the control of records comprise a records management program.
To be truly effective, the records management program should be systematically implemented throughout the institution. A comprehensive program addresses all aspects of records management for the entire institution, thereby providing maximum cost efficiency. Although records management is not an institution’s primary mandate, it adds value to an organization. Increases in efficiency, compliance, and economy resulting from the application of procedural controls on the creation, flow, distribution, use and disposition of information provide the institution with valued savings in staff time, litigation costs, and overall budget. When decision-makers are not aware of the benefits, they treat records management as an administrative expense and abdicate responsibility for records management to the department level.
The commitment of senior management is vital to allocate the resources necessary to develop and enforce policy. The benefits and requirements of the records and information management program must be communicated to all employees from the top down.
The expense of record keeping or maintenance becomes more than simply the cost of physical storage when the institution becomes involved in a lawsuit and must respond to a request for evidence. Documents need to be collected, organized, and reviewed by attorneys for relevancy and any protection by the attorney-client privilege. The institution must accomplish these actions and reproduce relevant documents for the other Party without delay and with minimal disruption of day-to-day business.
Good records management practices are needed to achieve efficiencies in the document production process not only for internal benefits, but also for the benefit of other parties. Case law indicates that organizations cannot expect the opposing party to find a needle in a haystack. An institution needs to be prepared to demonstrate to a court or a regulatory authority its good-faith efforts to retain and dispose of records in a responsible manner and in accordance with established business practices. Documentation of the records retention program should be maintained to show its systematic development and implementation in the normal course of business.
The overall goal of a records management program is to provide the right information, at the right time, in the right order, to the right person, at the lowest possible cost. Such a goal demands a total organization approach towards records management, incorporating all records in all storage media. The objectives that must be accomplished to achieve the goal include:
- The satisfaction of records creation requirements as stated in both the federal and state statutes, rules, regulations, and in professional practice.
- The maintenance of records for an appropriate length of time as determined by the administrative, fiscal, and legal needs of the institution, by the laws, rules, and regulations of government, and as approved by the State Records Committee.
- The reduction of direct and indirect costs of records storage and management by the effective use of technology and off-site storage options.
- The preservation of those historical records that document institution decision- making over time and that provide the history of the institution and the state.
- The documentation of the institution’s actions for the purposes of accounting to the public.
The last two objectives address the continued maintenance of records overtime. A records management program must ultimately strike a balance between the records needed to conduct day-to-day business and the cost of continued records maintenance.
Approved Retention Schedule - The keystone of an effective records management program is the records retention schedule. The schedule is the document that identifies records created by institutions and the length of time the records need to be maintained. An approved retention schedule for university records is attached as Appendix 1.
Institution Records Officer - Each institution should identify an individual responsible for implementation of the retention schedule and management of the institution’s record keeping processes.
Ideally, the institution should create a managerial level position responsible for these functions. At the Board of Regents level, the Electronic Records Manager for Georgia Archives acts as a system- wide coordinator and information source for each institutional officer. The Electronic Records Manager for Georgia Archives is Christine Garrett. She can be contacted at 678-364-3782 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Duties of the institution records officer include: developing procedures; ensuring the development of quality record keeping systems, regardless of media type, that meet the business and legal needs of the institution; implementing the approved retention schedule regularly; coordinating the transfer and destruction of institution records; suspending program operation when needed; developing a business or disaster recovery plan; training agency staff in records management policies and procedures; and documenting program implementation through record keeping. These responsibilities are discussed below.
Developing Procedures. The records officer must develop procedures to explain the necessity of creating records that document the conduct of institution business, to govern the implementation of retention schedules, to document records destruction, to set out the rights and authorities of access to the institution’s records (in all media), to discuss the storage of historical or temporary records (in the custody of the institution), and to implement the business/disaster recovery plan.
Ensuring the Development of Quality Record Keeping Systems. Quality record keeping and record keeping systems require a knowledge of the operations of the institution, its record requirements, and files or document management techniques. By incorporating this knowledge in an office’s workflow processes, the records officer and staff can ensure the creation of an audit trail of records documenting decision-making. This task is made more difficult in an electronic environment and requires file naming conventions, indexing conventions, and a consistent approach to the digitization of records and their retention in paper or electronic form.
Ensuring the Regular Implementation of Retention Schedules. Records should be disposed of as they meet their state retention period. Implementation should occur systematically and institution-wide on a regular basis - for example, just after a successful audit, after reports are filed, or at the end of the fiscal year. The records officer facilitates this task by notifying staff to review their records and to remove inactive records from the office record keeping systems.
Coordinating the Storage and Transfer of Historical Records. Some records created by an institution will be designated as permanent. These records provide the long-term administrative evidence of the university system. The records officer coordinates the transfer of these records from the custody of the creating office into the custody of the university archives. With regard to electronic records, the records officer ensures that permanent electronic records are maintained within the institution’s computer system in a manner that ensures their continued preservation and accessibility.
Coordinating the Storage and Transfer of Temporary Records. Temporary records that are no longer referenced on a frequent basis, but are not yet eligible for destruction, should be stored outside the institution’s office space in an area that is both secure and protected. These inactive records, if in paper format, should be boxed and labeled to facilitate retrieval. The records officer ensures that supplies of boxes, labels, and transmittal forms are available for institution staff and facilitates the removal of records from active office space. Electronic records should be treated in much the same manner. When no longer referenced on a frequent basis, but not yet eligible for destruction, electronic records may be moved off the institution’s computer system and stored on magnetic tape, or removed from active databases or file directories into another intermediate storage location or format. Once eligible for destruction, all records should be promptly destroyed or deleted and all backup tapes (and copies of records) erased.
Coordinating the Destruction of Temporary Records. The retention schedule constitutes the legal authorization for an institution to destroy records. Written approvals by key individuals in the institution should document every records disposition action. Once approval has been given, records should be promptly and systematically destroyed in accordance with the program’s established procedures and in the regular course of business. Suspending Program Operation. Even if normally permitted by the schedule, the destruction of records must stop immediately when an institution receives notice of pending or imminent litigation, government investigation, or audit. Otherwise, the institution could be liable for obstruction of justice or contempt of court. The records officer must work closely with the institution’s (or the Board of Regent’s) legal counsel and accountants to be notified when destruction must cease and to ensure that all departments and offices are notified of the temporary suspension of the records management program.
Developing a Business or Disaster Recovery Plan. Business or disaster recovery planning involves anticipating the most likely types of catastrophes that could affect the institution’s records and determining procedures for reestablishing operations should one actually occur. Business recovery is a term generally utilized in the computer industry to describe the recovery of computer operations in the institution. Very few areas of the state have escaped some kind of natural disaster - ice, flood, fires, hurricanes, tornadoes. However, few people stop to think of the impact that burst water pipes, overflowing sewer systems, leaky roofs, faulty electrical systems, and office humidity and temperature have on the conduct of business. The records officer should coordinate and spearhead institution efforts to plan for a quick recovery from a disaster by:
- establishing written procedures for mobilizing a disaster recovery team;
- establishing procedures for contacting team members, assembling staff at disaster site, damage assessment, supply procurement, site security, and clean-up;
- establishing procedures for offsite storage of duplicate vital records and backup tapes;
- maintaining adequate levels of such supplies as flashlights, rubber boots, tarps, brooms, and mops to begin the recovery process;
- maintaining an emergency assistance list consisting of names, addresses, telephone and fax numbers of supply sources, vendors with whom the institution has an account, state and local emergency coordinators, power company, telephone company, gas company, police, fire department, and computer hardware and software vendors.
Training Institution Staff. The benefits and requirements of the records and information management program must be communicated to all employees from the top down. Without adequate training, institution staff cannot implement the records management program as it should be implemented - as part of the regular course of business. Such training should also be part of new staff orientation.
Documenting Program Implementation through Record Keeping. Documenting the implementation of the records management program provides the information necessary to show the cost savings of a program, to protect the institutions in the event of audit, investigation or litigation, and to locate needed records in a timely fashion. Record keeping for a records management program should encompass information to locate current records, to document records out of the custody of the institution, to document the disposition of inactive records, to provide written procedures governing all record management activities, and to provide statistics and meet reporting requirements.
The documents appended to this introduction provide policy and retention guidelines to individual institutions seeking to manage their records. Additional assistance, guidelines, and training are available from the Georgia Archives, Christine Garrett, Electronic Records Manager and Doug Rollo, Assistant Director, Records Management, State Records Center. Ms. Garrett can be reached at 678-364-3782 or email@example.com and Mr. Rollo can be reached at 404-756-4866 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additional sources of information and publications can be found on the Archives web site: https://www.georgiaarchives.org and the University System of Georgia web site: https://www.usg.edu/records_management.
Contact the Georgia Archives by phone at 678-364-3710 or by email email@example.com