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Federal agencies records retention rules now apply to chats and texts

January 18, 2023

National Archives

New records mandate issued by the National Archives and Records Administration expands retention requirement to include “email and other electronic messages” and details rules for automating.

Electronic messaging, including chat application communications and texting, have become a primary form of communication in the modern government workplace, and this is especially true for U.S. federal agencies. However, with the increased use of various communication channels comes the responsibility of properly retaining and archiving these messages for potential future reference and compliance with various laws and regulations.

The Federal Records Act (FRA) requires that federal agencies create and maintain records that document their activities and transactions, and that these records be preserved for as long as they have administrative, legal, or historical value. While the FRA is the primary law that governs the management of federal records, a new records mandate issued Wednesday by the National Archives and Records Administration clarifies a decade-old rule for retaining electronic communications, expanding the requirement to include “email and other electronic messages” and detailing rules for automating retention for the top echelon of federal officials—known as the Capstone approach.

Historically, the Capstone approach was designed specifically for email correspondence – but no more. With the latest update to the General Records Schedules in Transmittal 33, the scope has been expanded to include all types of electronic messages, including any electronic message, including email-based chat, independent chat messengers and text messages. The retention period, based upon the position of the sender or receiver, can range from 3 to 30 Years.

Rather than restrict the definition to a list of covered media, NARA offered a set of questions officials can ask themselves as they determine how to apply the new requirements:

  • Does [the electronic communication] contain evidence of an agency’s policies, business or mission?
  • Is the information only available in the electronic message?
  • Does the agency use the tool to convey official agency information?
  • Is there a business need for the information?

With the update and Federal Register Notice, NARA was clear that agencies “will need to continually review their policy and implementation approaches as electronic messaging platforms and tools evolve” a NARA bulletin issued Jan. 5. And “Capturing electronic messages requires considerations of the technical infrastructure of the tools and may also require different policy approaches to ensure records management requirements are met.”

As a result, Federal agencies must also have the technical capabilities to properly save and preserve electronic messages. We’ve worked with several agencies to implement DataParser to capture these communications and push them into their email archive or cloud storage. They have chosen DataParser as the middleware connector solution to capture, store, and retrieve electronic messages in accordance with legal and regulatory requirements.

In addition to using DataParser, federal agencies must have policies and procedures in place for the creation, maintenance, and preservation of electronic messages. These policies and procedures should cover topics such as:

  • Identifying which electronic messages are considered federal records and need to be preserved
  • Establishing retention periods for electronic messages
  • Providing access to electronic messages in response to FOIA requests
  • Ensuring the security and confidentiality of electronic messages
  • Providing training to employees on the proper use and preservation of electronic messages

17a-4 LLC – For more information about recent changes to Rules & Regulations.

DataParser – For more information about DataParser for Federal agencies.