Strategies for Email Retention


Recently, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) released a bulletin to provide guidance on managing email for federal agencies.  Tasked with keeping the nation’s records, NARA offers those of us at the State and Local levels a timely reminder of our collective email-keeping responsibilities and a few helpful tips to tackle the job.

Government agencies at all levels are responsible for properly managing their email; this is primarily accomplished on a day-to-day basis through you and I as government employees.  Much like the guidance given in the Managing Your Inbox tutorial available through the Beacon learning portal, the Managing Email workshops held at the State Records Center, and the provisions outlined for Executive Branch agencies through E.O. 12, NARA’s bulletin reminds us that government email accounts may contain—and often DO contain—public records, which must be kept in accordance with approved records retention and disposition schedules.

Sometimes, though, it can be difficult to identify what is and what is not a public record, and if it is a public record, how long it must be retained.  For example, emails inquiring into office hours or location, where to find a certain form, or who to contact about a certain issue are all public records.  According to the General Schedule for State Agency Records, these routine inquiries fall under Item G39, the Requests for Information File.  Email of this ilk must be retained 1 year by State agencies not in the Executive Branch and 5 years by Executive Branch agencies. (For additional information about how E.O. 12 affects email retention, see Mark Holland’s previous post.)

The responsibility of deciding on an email-by-email basis which correspondence to keep and for what length of time can be a burden.  In an effort to simplify this process, consider the following suggestions for managing agency email:

  • Develop a “cheat sheet”  to help employees identify which emails are public records.  Create a list of the types of emails your and your staff typically receive, categorize each type using the General Schedule and your agency’s approved retention schedule, and compile this information into a quick reference sheet with the appropriate dispositions for each type of email.
  • Adopt automated or rule-based guidelines for email management.  Harness the power of your agency’s email client to do some preliminary sorting and filing based on keywords or email addresses.
  • Work with your Records Analyst to identify key email accounts that are likely to contain documentation of policy or procedures for permanent retention.  Typically, these accounts will include the highest administrative heads like directors, deputy directors, or chairpersons.

Though managing email can seem confusing or overwhelming, these measures demystify the process and help agencies standardize email retention.  For additional assistance, contact your agency’s analyst.

*Uncle Sam image from


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