U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service logo
United States Department of the Interior

Washington, D.C. 20240

                                                                                                                             March 8, 2001
To: All U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Employees 
From: Assistant Director - Budget, Planning, and Human Resources
Assistant Director - Business Management & Operations
Subject: Retention of Electronic Mail (email) and Tape Backup Copies

Email and other electronic documents are rapidly replacing or supplementing paper
documents used within Federal agencies.  Many of us are not accustomed to thinking of
electronic documents (particularly email) as Federal records.  Though a more specific and
detailed definition of the term ‘record’ may be found at  44 U.S.C. 3301, essentially a ‘record’
is anything that is used by Federal employees or contractors to document activities related to an
agency’s organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, and essential transactions.
Email falling within any of these broad categories qualifies as a record and must be retained in
accordance with National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) guidance.

This bulletin restates the Service’s current policy and requirements regarding email records
and tape backup copies.  Additional detail regarding records schedules, email, and tape
backup copies is provided below.  More specific information regarding these subjects
may also be found by referring to Director’s Order 103.

What guidance does NARA currently offer related to the retention of email?

Agencies may only delete email - which meets the definition of a Federal record - if
the employee prints out the email (including pertinent ‘header’ information such as
addressees, date, and time).  Otherwise that information must be retained electronically
in accordance with the agency’s records schedule.

What is a records schedule - and where do I find it?

A records schedule is a listing of agency records and how long they must be retained.
The Service’s records schedule is part of the Fish and Wildlife Service Manual
(283 FW 2, Appendix 1), and may be accessed through the Service’s home page
at the following address: http://policy.fws.gov/a1283fw2.html.

What is a tape backup copy?
Tape backup copies (also called ‘backup tapes’ or ‘file server backup tapes’) are
copies of files  (including email) automatically backed up by the server every night.
These tapes are a safeguard which are used to restore lost information should your
computer or the system that you are working in experience problems.

Why aren’t tape backup copies considered the ‘official record’?

NARA requires every employee to be responsible for the records they create.  They
require that - prior to destruction of email - employees either electronically archive or
print out and file copies of all email which qualifies as a record.  Employees should
save those records in accordance with their agency’s records schedule.  Tape backup
copies therefore, do not qualify as the official agency record.  They are merely a
safeguard related to records - in the event that there is a problem with a Service
computer or system.

What is the Service’s requirement related to retention of tape backup copies?

The current Service requirement is for Information Resources Management personnel
to store tape backup copies for a period of 30 to 90 days (to allow local IRM managers’
flexibility related to customer needs) after which time the tape backup copies are deleted.
This will allow the Service to reduce costs and storage requirements significantly by
erasing and reusing the tapes upon which backup copies are stored.

Please contact Johnny Hunt in the Division of Policy and Directives Management at
703-358-2504 if you have any questions on NARA guidance or records schedule;
and Louis Irwin, in the Division of Information Resources Management,
703-358-5402, for tape backup information.

For additional information regarding this Web page, contact Krista Bibb, in the Division of Policy
and Directives Management, at Krista_Bibb@fws.gov 
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