November 13, 2020

Understanding Federal Records Management during Presidential Transitions

By Lisa Haralampus and Chris Naylor

Government employees create and maintain federal records as an integral part of their daily responsibilities. Agencies must ensure employees are aware of their responsibilities regarding the management of records, especially during presidential transitions.

To assist agencies, the National Archives and Records Administration has created an online publication, “Documenting your Public Service,” that provides all government employees, including senior officials and political appointees, with information regarding their responsibilities for managing federal records.

For senior officials, many of their records are permanently valuable and one day will be sent to the National Archives to help document the country’s history. As senior officials often enter and leave federal service during times of presidential transition, there are several things they should know to properly manage and preserve their records.

When entering federal service, it is important to lay the foundation for good records and information management.

Some key points to remember are: 

  • Keep personal business out of agency-administered systems and accounts.
  • Keep agency business out of personal systems and accounts.
  • Be aware that federal employees have no expectation of privacy in agency systems or accounts.
While working in federal service, records management should be routinely incorporated into daily activities and work processes.

Federal employees must always remember the following guidelines:

  • Talk to the experts in your agency—the senior agency official for records management responsible for strategic planning and oversight of their entire records management program and the agency records officer responsible for implementing the agency records information management program and operations.
  • If you create or receive a federal record in a personal or nonofficial email account, you must either include your official account on the “cc” line of any emails you send or forward a complete copy to your official account within 20 days.
  • Remember that social media accounts created or used for official agency business must stay under the control of the agency.
When leaving federal service, remember specific recordkeeping responsibilities.
  • Complete exit briefings on records management with your records management staff, IT liaisons and general counsel.
  • Ensure federal records and information are available to your successor.
  • Do not delete or remove government information when leaving office.

Federal employees cannot take records with them when leaving federal service, but they may be able to take some copies of federal records as well as their personal materials. Setting up good practices from the start of your career will make it much easier to manage federal records at the end of your service.

To further explain the obligations, NARA has developed transition specific guidance materials for political appointees covering the key points outlined above, including a one page handout and an online briefing video.

Lisa Haralampus is the Director of the Records Management Policy and Outreach program in the Office of the Chief Records Officer for the U.S. Government at the National Archives and Records Administration where she issues government-wide policies for federal agencies related to records management standards, technology and processes. 

Chris Naylor is the Deputy Chief Operating Officer at the National Archives and Records Administration and is currently serving as NARA’s Presidential Transition Director.