NARA goes easy on 'transitory' e-records

Rule on e-mail designed to preserve what's important

NARA said ... requiring agencies to maintain all e-mail communications would be far too burdensome.

The National Archives and Records Administration has issued a final rule on short-term electronic record-keeping, including e-mail, that seeks to maintain records without overburdening workers or e-mail systems.

In a notice last month, NARA said agencies can store transitory electronic records'those with a shelf life of 180 days or less'on their e-mail systems without the need to copy them into a record-keeping system.

The rule defines these records generally as e-mails with minimal or no documentary or evidential value, such as routine requests for information and copies of replies that require no administrative action or policy decision, and no special compilation or research for reply.

The new NARA rule would help employees concentrate on important e-mail records.

'[G]overnment employees are more likely to take seriously their responsibility of retaining e-mail records of long-term or permanent value ... if they do not have to spend time on the very high volume of transitory and very short-term e-mail records that cross their desktops every day,' the rule said.

The final rule does not stray from the draft proposal NARA issued in November 2004, despite comments from a handful of agencies that the rule could unintentionally result in the destruction of important documents with long-term significance.

Those comments urged NARA to require agencies to print out and retain all e-mail communications, arguing that because many agencies and their employees do not properly maintain all e-mail records for their prescribed retention period, many valuable records are being lost prematurely.

NARA, while acknowledging these concerns, said requiring agencies to maintain all e-mail communications would be far too burdensome.


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