U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590
FHWA Order M 1324.1A
This Directive was canceled July 29, 2013.
|FHWA Files Management and Records Disposition Manual: Chapter 4|
||Office of Primary Interest
||November 4, 1999
CHAPTER 4 - ELECTRONIC RECORDS
- GENERAL. This chapter establishes electronic recordkeeping
guidelines for the creation, maintenance, security, and disposition of
information stored on computers and other electronic equipment.
Electronic technology has greatly expanded and enhanced the methods of
creating, editing, maintaining, transmitting, and retrieving Federal
records. Records now may be in the traditional paper form or use a
variety of other media in electronic recordkeeping systems from creation
through disposition. Electronic documents are records just as much as
paper documents, and their creation, maintenance and use, and
disposition must be managed accordingly. Based on need, electronic
documents may be maintained in computer memories for instant access, on
magnetic tape or disk for reference, or in some other form.
- DEFINITION. Electronic records are any records in which a computer
or other electronic device is required for the user to create, maintain,
access, transmit, or dispose of the record in an electronic format.
Electronic records are also referred to as machine-readable records, for
they require machine processing for conversion to readable form.
Examples of electronic records are those residing on magnetic tapes,
diskettes, drums, video files, and optical disks. Electronic records
meet the NARA definition for Federal records and must meet applicable
standards and guidelines.
- The Office of Information and Management Services (HAIM) has overall
responsibility for the FHWA electronic records management program. HAIM
(1) develop policies, procedures, and guidelines to improve the
effectiveness of the FHWA electronic records management program.
(2) provide assistance and advice to Headquarters and field offices on
electronic records management matters.
(3) develop and secure NARA approval of records disposition schedules
for electronic records and ensure their effective implementation.
(4) serve as liaison with NARA on scheduling, transferring, and
disposing of electronic records.
(5) establish a training program that ensures adequate training for
users of electronic records systems in the operation, care, and handling
of the information, equipment, software, and media used in the system.
- Core Business Unit Program Managers, Service Business Unit Directors,
Resource Center Directors, Division Administrators, State Directors of
Motor Carriers, and Federal Lands Highway Division Engineers shall:
(1) manage, control, and coordinate all electronic records management
activities within their offices through the local Records Liaison Officer
(2) ensure that electronic records are preserved and disposed of in
accordance with agency guidelines and approved records disposition
(3) develop security controls to prevent the unauthorized alteration or
erasure of information in electronic records.
- All employees shall:
(1) use electronic equipment in a safe and responsible way.
(2) maintain electronic records according to prescribed agency policies
(3) safeguard electronic records until authorized for disposition.
Electronic records are to be treated the same as paper records, that is,
paper maintenance and disposal must be approved by the National Archives.
(4) notify the local RLO when unscheduled electronic records are
- CREATING ELECTRONIC RECORDS. The widespread introduction of
microcomputers into offices has encouraged the re-evaluation of the
traditional office approach to records management. Word processing is the
most common office computer application. These powerful, easy-to-use
systems allow administrative, technical, and professional personnel to
create and store documents (records) more frequently and more rapidly and
to share and revise them more easily than in traditional, paper-based
- Identifying Electronic Records. The first step in determining
recordkeeping requirements for electronic records is to identify the
records' creators and users. Some information may exist in several
different formats within one office. Since such records are needed for
separate program purposes, the recordkeeping requirements, including life
span, may differ with the program. Such information requirements should be
the determining factor in deciding where, how, in what format, and for how
long the electronic records are maintained.
- Records vs. Working Papers. Just as with paper documents, drafts or
working copies of electronic documents are normally kept only until the
final version of a document is completed. For long or complex documents,
several earlier drafts and the current draft may be retained to ensure
document integrity until the final draft is approved. Then, normally,
previous revisions will be erased and only the final text and the
requisite back-up copies kept. The exception to this is when retention of
drafts is needed to document significant policy development and changes.
- Identification Methods. Once working papers are eliminated from
consideration, the remaining documents should be examined in terms of the
NARA definition for a record. This examination may be by: (a) analyzing
each document individually to determine record status or, (b) establishing
records groups to which each record document may be assigned.
- MAINTAINING ELECTRONIC RECORDS ON LOCAL AREA NETWORKS (LAN).
The purpose of a LAN is for multiple users to be able to have access to
files stored on the LAN file server and to be able to share peripheral
equipment, such as a laser printer.
(1) Generally, all users should have access to all working files
in that organization's directory.
(2) Secretaries should have access to all files in their
Division or Office for quick reference and changes by management.
(3) Organize files in folders and subfolders so that employees having a
need to access the files can easily find them when needed.
(4) For security reasons, and to ensure that unauthorized persons do not
have access to work files, do not share any computer ID and password.
- Folders. Within a LAN file server, files are organized into folders
that generally are created and managed by the word processing software
package under which the files were created. A folder serves, in effect,
the same function that folders in a filing cabinet serve for paper files;
they organize and store individual documents.
(1) Multiple folders, commonly termed subfolders, should be used to
group logically related files. Separate subfolders should be created for
each major program area or area of responsibility.
(2) Folders and subfolders should be assigned names that clearly
communicate their contents to employees other than the originator so that
employees can locate files when the originator is out of the office. Avoid
mixing unrelated files within a specific subfolder.
(3) When organizing folders, ensure that only one type of record is
being stored in a particular folder. Keep official records in folders on
the file server. Non-record materials may be stored on the file server
(depending on the size of the file and remaining file space), the user's
C: drive, or on a floppy disk.
- DISPOSITION OF ELECTRONIC RECORDS. Arranging for the authorized
disposition of electronic records is similar to the scheduling of
information stored on any other medium, such as paper or microfilm.
Electronic records are usually stored on erasable, reusable, and
relatively expensive media, which are easy to revise and update and are
relatively fragile. For these reasons, the disposition of electronic
records should be determined as early as possible in the life cycle.
Inventorying and scheduling are the most effective ways of ensuring that
electronic records are saved as long as they are needed.
- Inventorying. A records inventory begins with a survey of the records
created or maintained by an organization or one of its components. An
inventory includes information such as the series or system title,
inclusive dates of the data, the software and hardware used, the office(s)
with responsibility for the records, how and why the records are created,
what information they contain, any restrictions on access, and how the
records are used. The first step in the disposition process is the
identification and description of records and recordkeeping requirements.
This process requires a review of all organizational documentation to
determine the information requirements of each operating unit. Once these
decisions have been made, a description of records and recordkeeping
requirements can be developed to be used in the preparation of
inventories. Both the inventorying and scheduling of electronic records
work best in the context of an "electronic information system,"
which is the organized collection, transmission, and dissemination of
information in accordance with defined procedures.
- Permanent Electronic Records. Given the enormous variety of
information stored in computer files, it is impossible to compile a
comprehensive list of potentially permanent electronic records. The
following examples are intended to suggest this variety:
(1) Electronic records that replace records scheduled as permanent in
another form, e.g., paper.
(2) Administrative data that have unusually broad coverage or
significance, such as the budgets of an entire department or agency.
(3) Natural resources data related to land, water, minerals, or
(4) Emergency operations data that document military or civilian
operation during times of war, civil emergency, or natural disaster.
(5) Political, survey, or judicial data related to such topics as
elections, special investigations, or court proceedings.
- Preservation. Special handling is needed to ensure the long-term
preservation of electronic records that are permanent or unscheduled and,
therefore, potentially permanent. The basic requirements for the creation,
maintenance, use, and storage of Federal permanent and unscheduled
magnetic media are spelled out in 36 CFR 1234.
(1) Mainframe-based Records. The useful life of a magnetic tape, the
recommended storage medium for permanent electronic records, is currently
estimated at 10 years. Therefore, Federal agencies are encouraged to
transfer permanent electronic information directly to the National
Archives when additions to the master file cease or as periodic snapshots
of the data system.
Current up-to-date documentation is essential for transferring
electronic records to the National Archives, and the documentation must
accompany electronic records that are transferred to the National
Archives. As a minimum, the documentation for data files and data bases
should include the record layout and a codebook. For data base management
systems, essential documentation is a data dictionary or the equivalent
information, including a description of the relations between data
elements in relational data bases. NARA has attempted to deal with the
problem of diverse and incompatible systems by standardizing the computer
media it will accept to half-inch magnetic tape.
(2) PC-based Records. NARA is in the process of establishing guidelines
for the acceptance of permanent electronically stored data on optical
disks, but does not accept electronic data stored on any other medium,
such as floppy disks.
- SECURITY OF ELECTRONIC RECORDS. Security for electronic records
created, used, and stored on personal computers (PC) systems and LANs has
become an important issue. Mainframe computer systems have traditionally
had considerable protection, but PC systems have not, for they have been
treated as single-user devices. As a result, security weaknesses may
threaten the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of electronic
information. This is especially true with the advent of LANs in each FHWA
office, the agencywide Wide Area Network (WAN) and Electronic Data Sharing
(EDS) with State DOTs and other customers and partners. Successful
electronic records security requires a balance among the following
- Confidentiality of personal, proprietary, or otherwise sensitive
electronic records handled by the system.
- Integrity and accuracy of electronic records and the processes
associated with them.
- Accessibility of electronic record systems and the electronic records
or services they support.
- COURT DECISIONS CONCERNING ELECTRONIC RECORDS. In March 1999, NARA
issued Bulletin 99-04, "Scheduling Electronic Copies of Program
Records and Administrative Records Not Covered by the General Records
Schedules (GRS)." This bulletin instructed agencies on how to
schedule the electronic copies of the agency's currently scheduled program
records and certain administrative records that were previously scheduled
under GRS 20, items 13 (word processing documents) and 14 (e-mail
documents). The bulletin also defined electronic copies as, "the
electronic records that were created using word processing or electronic
mail software that remain on the "live" computer system after
the recordkeeping copy is produced." The impact of the NARA bulletin
is that agencies must now decide: (1) whether electronic versions have
lasting value, and (2) whether the electronic version of agency records
should become the official copies. NARA Bulletin 99-04 was issued in
response to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia decision
on Public Citizen et al. v. John Carlin et al., which ruled that
portions of GRS 20 reached beyond the authority of NARA and declared GRS
20 null and void. This decision prohibited agencies from destroying
electronic records and e-mail without guidance from NARA, even when paper
copies were kept. In August 1999, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for
the District of Columbia overturned the U.S. District Court's
decision, declaring that the NARA does have the authority to instruct
agencies on how to dispose of electronic records and e-mail. As of the
date this manual is posted on the Internet, NARA is reviewing the appeals
court's decision and will provide comments at a later date. The
outcome of this court action has elevated the attention to the importance
of the maintenance and disposition of electronic records and e-mail and it
has also outlined the agency responsibilities for implementation.
Return to Table of Contents
Page last modified on October 19, 2015