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FHWA Order M 1324.1A
This Directive was canceled July 29, 2013.

FHWA Files Management and Records Disposition Manual: Chapter 2
Classification Code Date Office of Primary Interest
M 1324.1A November 4, 1999  


  1. PROCEDURES. To maintain an effective files operation, papers should be filed daily. The steps in the filing process are: (a) check and sort, (b) determine the correct filing classification, (c) prepare list of files, (d) cross-reference as necessary, and (e) file.

    1. Check and Sort Papers. The first step in daily filing is separating all papers into groups: those to be discarded, those requiring further action, and those to be filed. If the amount of papers warrant, those separated for filing may be further sorted into as many stacks as there are separate basic file types.

      (1) Papers eligible for filing include:

      (a) incoming communications on which required action has been completed e.g., incoming letters and memorandums concerning matters pertinent to administrative or substantive functions of the office;

      (b) office copies of outgoing communications, reports, etc. e.g., official "grid," or other designated file copies retained by the originating office as an official record of action taken;

      (c) memorandums of conversations, memorandums to file, minutes of meetings, and other papers created within the office and not transmitted elsewhere, but needed to record the business affairs of the office;

      (d) agreements, contracts, or other documents having legal significance (signed copies or confirmed copies);

      (e) fiscal or financial records that document the acquisition, distribution, utilization, or expenditure of funds;

      (f) forms bearing information about personnel, property, accounts, procurement, shipping, programs, projects, and commodities;

      (g) original copies of reports, or cleared final drafts of publications, along with the necessary background and supporting documents that reflect conclusions of studies, surveys, and investigations of the agency; and

      (h) any other papers that establish, confirm, implement, clarify, or recommend FHWA policies, programs, positions, and procedures.

      (2) Papers "not to be filed" are most likely to include:

      (a) papers that agency rules require be sent to another office location for filing;

      (b) papers to be circulated in the office prior to filing;

      (c) papers authorized for destruction; and

      (d) personal papers mistakenly placed in the "to be filed" basket.

      (3) To assure efficiency of documentation, the recordkeeper must assemble directly related records and check for completeness. For case-filed records, this means filing together the incoming letter, a copy of the reply, and any pertinent attachments, enclosures, or background.

      (4) For a transaction involving general correspondence subject files, the recordkeeper removes any earlier correspondence already on file, determines if any segments of the current correspondence are lacking, and assembles the complete papers in reverse-date order (earliest papers at the bottom of the pile). This is often called filing "under date of latest action."

    2. List of Files. In the front of each filing cabinet drawer, keep a listing of the file folders stored in that drawer. This listing will assist users in locating a particular file and will reduce the chances of a folder being misfiled. At a minimum, keep a copy of the office's files classification system in the top drawer of each filing cabinet to assist users in locating files.


    1. Assemble papers to be filed in the subject files alphabetically by their primary file code, and within each primary code by secondary and tertiary file numbers.

    2. Fasten individual papers together with wire staples only, when it is necessary to keep them together because of their functional relationship. Examples are:

      (1) A multi-page communication.

      (2) A report, contract, or agreement.

      (3) A communication with its enclosures.

    3. Repair torn papers with transparent, pressure-sensitive tape.

    4. Place the document in the folder in date order with the most recent at the front of the folder.

    5. Subdivide folders that are filled to capacity (about 3/4"). The inclusive date of the contents are added to the folder caption. An identically captioned folder is placed in the file immediately in front of the filled folder. The new folder should begin at a logical time, such as the beginning of a month or a calendar quarter, and the caption should contain the date the file is started.


    1. Subject Files. Subject files are records arranged and filed according to their general informational or subject content; mainly letters and memorandums, but also forms, reports, and other materials, all relating to program and administrative functions, not to specific cases. In the subject file, documents are arranged by primary subjects and then by secondary and tertiary subjects, which form subdivisions of the primary subjects. Show the file code (such as PER for personnel), folder title, period covered by the folder (fiscal year-FY, calendar year-CY, or leave year-LY), and the records disposition. The file code and subject title appear on the label of each subject file folder exactly as they appear in the Files Classification outline (see Table of Contents for relevant section of Part II). Each folder label should be typed, or printed legibly in the following format and attached to the folder or guide as described below (Figure 2-1 shows the correct position of the subject file label on the folder).

      (1) Primary Subject. The primary subject is the prime or major subject designation that identifies and describes groups of related records, e.g., Personnel, or Contracts and Procurement. Primary subject labels should be placed in the first or left-hand position on the file folder tab. Example:

      Label Sample 1

      (2) Secondary Subject. One or more related subjects that are subdivisions of the primary subject.

      Secondary subject labels should be placed in the second or middle position on the folder tab. Example:

      Label Sample 2

      (3) Tertiary Subject. One or more related subjects that have been created or established by the division of a secondary subject. Tertiary subject labels should be placed in the third or right-hand position on the folder tab. Example:

      Label Sample 3

    2. Subject-Expansion Files. These files are labeled to show the further breakdown of a prescribed subject file code. The additional information is supplied by the user, rather than from any part of the Files Classification outline. The file code and title of the primary, secondary, or tertiary subject is shown on the top line of the file label. The added information which identifies the further breakdown, such as case number, State, or title is shown in parentheses on the second line of the label.

      Label Sample 4

      Note: The position of the subject-expansion file label on the folder is the same as that of the primary, secondary, or tertiary file code to which the subject-expansion file relates.

    3. Case Files. Case files are records that document a specific action, transaction, event, person, place, project, or other subject. A project file is a type of case file that contains records relating to an assigned task or problem. A case file may cover one or several subjects that relate to a particular case.

      Filing Positions

      File Labels and File Drawer Arrangement
      Figure 2-1

      Case file labels must show clearly what group of case files each belongs to. Show the correct file code, followed by the name of the case file in parentheses, on the top line, and the record's disposition in the lower-right corner of the label. The subject title of the file classification may be omitted. (An abbreviation of the subject title may be included, if necessary). Example:

      Label Sample 5

      (1) The following guidelines apply to the establishment of case files:

      (a) establish case file titles according to the filing feature most often used in referring to the case. For example, by name or number.

      (b) ensure that case file folders whose contents are significantly related are cross-referenced one to another.

      (2) Case files may be arranged:

      (a) alphabetically by name of person, State, city, company, etc., or by grouping within a geographical location, such as cases within a city, State, or area.

      (b) according to a number assigned to identify the case.

    4. Non-record Files. The filing of non-record material in filing cabinets should be avoided where possible, but where necessary, file the material in a separate folder behind the subject folder to which it applies. Prepare the label in the same manner as a subject folder, except type the lower line, "Reference" to the left and "Non-record" to the right. Example:

      Label Sample 6

      Note: Place the label in the same position on the non-record folder as the label on the preceding subject folder.


    1. A charge-out system tells where a record can be located when it has been temporarily borrowed from the files. A charge-out system will save time when finding records needed in urgent situations.

    2. FHWA Form 855, File Charge Out, identifies the records removed, name of the borrower, and the date the records were removed. For a complete folder, the borrower records the file designation or title for identification. To identify a single piece of correspondence, the date of the correspondence, the addressee, and a short description of its contents should be recorded. The file charge-out form is filed in the space formerly occupied by the removed file.

    3. To have an effective charge-out system, recordkeepers must consistently remove the File Charge-Out card each time a charged-out document is returned to the files. Recordkeepers should also periodically check the File Charge-Out cards in the files to follow up on documents removed from the files for an unreasonably long period.

  5. FILE BREAKS. At least once a year, file operators are expected to dispose of records according to the approved agency disposition schedules. To do so, file operators should:

    1. cut off files at the end of the fiscal or calendar year, depending on the file subject;

    2. transfer inactive files to storage; and

    3. dispose of files authorized for destruction (see Chapter 3, Disposition of Records).

      Note: Although establishing a new set of file folders is time-consuming, this action should be taken as frequently as reference service will permit, generally once a year. Breaking, or cutting off, files is basic to a good filing operation. Throughout the year recordkeepers should place all closed or inactive case files in a separate file. To cut off general correspondence subject files and establish a new set of file folders, recordkeepers generally use the guides from the previous year's file and bring forward any material needed for the new file.

  6. SUSPENSE FILES. A suspense or pending file serves as a reminder that something specific must be done on a certain date. The suspense files may take the form of 3" x 5" cards on which the information or action desired or requested is noted, along with the date by which the task must be accomplished. It may also consist of copies of letters or the originals of letters filed by the followup date, if required. Whether cards, originals, or copies of documents are maintained, they should be filed behind guides or in folders numbered 1 through 31, indicating the days of the month. Each day the recordkeeper should check the actions to be completed on that day and notify the official responsible for completing the action. Suspense files should be destroyed when action is completed or filed with the action file, as appropriate.

  7. READER FILES. Also known as "chronological files," the purpose of reader files is to help keep staff members in an office currently advised on important developments and decisions. Reader files consist of copies of all outgoing communications. It is not part of the official record of the office, and should be destroyed when its purpose is served. Reader files may be kept electronically in a read-only shared access sub-directory on the Local Area Network (LAN), where all staff may access and read it in lieu of circulating paper copies around the office. The maximum retention period should not exceed 6 months.

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Page last modified on October 19, 2015
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