What about Government Email?

Can you imagine being able to conduct government business in the State of Alabama without the use of email? In general, public officials are legally obligated to create and maintain records that adequately document agency activities. These government records — including email — facilitate the efficient conduct of government programs and services; ensure effective management of government information; and provide documentation of government business. Considering this, what rules and best practices apply to email when it comes to managing and retaining government records?

Let’s define government email. The state of Alabama issues a professional e-mail account for each new employee and public official. However, Alabama law stipulates that any document is a government record when it is created by a government employee in the course of conducting public business — not just those documents created with and/or stored on government property. If an employee is engaging in government activities with his or her personal email account, those emails are government records. This is one reason that the use of official government email accounts is encouraged when conducting public business.

How long must email be maintained by government agencies? It depends. Email itself is not a record type but a format. Because records retention relies on the information in a record and not on the format, agencies cannot apply one retention to all email messages.

Government email messages must be retained and disposed of according to the Records Disposition Authority (RDA) approved by the appropriate records commission for that agency. For example, if your agency’s RDA requires grant project files to be maintained “six years after submission of the final federal financial report,” then email associated with the grant project file would have that same six-year retention. Email messages are subject to the same retention requirements as the same type of records in another format or medium. Keep in mind that the retention of email is dependent upon the content of the email, not where the email account resides.

Email records are also subject to the same legal requirements regarding access as an agency’s other government records, as established by Alabama’s open records law. Because email created in the conduct of state or local business is public record and rarely subject to restrictions, written communications should be articulated clearly and professionally, leaving banter to the break room.

Getting to Know the Alabama State Records Commission

What is at the center of the state’s government records management program? The State Records Commission (or SRC), established in 1955, oversees the disposition of all state government records. The Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) serves as support staff for the State Records Commission and provides records management assistance to all state agencies.

You can’t keep everything forever, but where can you turn for help? ADAH Records and Information Management staff, in cooperation with agency representatives, compile Records Disposition Authorities (RDAs) for state agencies. Those RDAs are then approved by the State Records Commission.

RDAs list records agencies create and maintain while carrying out their mandated functions and activities. They also establish minimum retention periods and disposition instructions for those records; provide the legal authority for agencies to implement records destruction; and identify permanent state records that will ultimately be transferred to the Alabama Department of Archives and History for preservation and public access.

The nine-member State Records Commission oversees the approval of all new and revised state agency RDAs. Commission members represent various state agencies and public universities across Alabama, including Auburn University, the University of Alabama, one of Alabama’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities, the Attorney General, Secretary of State, Department of Finance, Department of Revenue, and Examiners of Public Accounts. Steve Murray, ADAH Director, chairs the Commission.

All state agencies are required by the Code of Alabama to create an RDA. Currently, more than 170 Alabama state agencies and commissions have established RDAs through the State Records Commission. If your agency does not have an RDA, they should contact ADAH as soon as possible to initiate the development process. Even those agencies that have RDAs often find themselves in need of revising their existing retention schedules, due to changes in legislation or the discovery or creation of new types of records. All RDA revisions are written in consultation with ADAH staff and brought to the State Records Commission, which meets twice a year, for final approval.

The State Records Commission will meet on Wednesday, October 24, at ADAH in Montgomery. The agenda includes discussion of revisions to existing RDAs for several state agencies, including the Department of Commerce, Board of Medical Examiners/Medical Licensure Commission, State Board of Pharmacy, School of Mathematics and Science, and Mobile County Health Department. Meetings are open to the public.

If you have questions about the Alabama State Records Commission generally, or would like more information about updating your state agency’s RDA, please contact Rebecca L. Hebert at becky.hebert@archives.alabama.gov.

It’s That Time Again! The 2018 State Agency Annual Records Disposition Authority Implementation Report

The Alabama Department of Archives and History is responsible for working with state agencies on managing their records. This year, we have developed a new online method for reporting your state agency’s 2018 records management activities. Each agency is required to complete this process by January 15, 2019. The new reporting method involves three easy steps:

1. Access the State Agency Annual Records Disposition Authority Implementation Report (it’s best to use a Chrome web browser since this document was created using Google forms). This form contains seven sections of questions about your records management activities, including records destroyed; electronic newsletters, bulletins, and annual reports created; and permanent records transferred to ADAH during the 2018 fiscal year. If your agency did not file a report in previous fiscal years, you can use this same Google form to submit those past reports—just be sure to fill out separate forms for 2018 and any other year you wish to submit.

2. Send a copy of your 2018 destruction notices to Rebecca.Jackson@archives.alabama.gov.

3. Send electronic copies of newsletters, bulletins, and agency annual reports to Kathleen.Brennan@archives.alabama.gov.

Once you complete these three simple steps, you will receive a PDF copy of your completed Annual RDA Implementation Report from ADAH within 30 days of your submission.

If you want to see if your agency has submitted the necessary reports for the past five years, you can check your agency’s compliance at the ADAH State Agency Annual Report Log. After January 15, 2019, you can use that same link to view your agency’s status for FY2018.

When you access the Google form, you will only see one section of questions at a time. If you would like to see all the questions at once to guide your submission process, you can download a PDF of the full questionnaire here: State Agency Annual RDA Implementation Report Preview Of Questions.

Also, when you enter your fiscal year into the Google form, please enter “2018” rather than “FY18” or any other derivation of 2018.

As always, if you have questions about the annual reporting form, please contact Rebecca Hebert at becky.hebert@archives.alabama.gov.

Thinking Outside the Acid-Free Box on Electronic Records Day

The times might always be changing but thankfully resources exist to ensure that your agency’s records are just as accessible in the future as they are today. Thanks to a three-year grant provided by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) has launched a new initiative to preserve the permanent electronic records created by state agencies. With help from Preservica — a cloud-based subscription service that provides long-term access to a wide array of electronic records formats — ADAH plans to collaborate with state agency records liaisons to think outside the box as we ensure that today’s born-digital records can serve future generations of Alabamians.

In 2017, ADAH used Preservica to make publicly available over 3,500 born-digital files created by the Office of the Governor. Not only does Preservica provide access to the electronic files that originated from Governor Bob Riley’s administration, but the tool migrates the various electronic records formats to new formats that ensure their long-term preservation. The records are accessible to researchers through the Archives website. Check the website often as we add new files to our growing electronic records collections, including our most recent addition of House Journals from 1998 to 2017.

The NHPRC grant also provided funds to assist state agency records liaisons in the development and implementation of electronic records management best practices. ADAH has created new guidelines for handling incoming electronic storage media and is crafting procedures for managing e-mail.

With the NHPRC’s help, ADAH is better prepared to advise state agencies on electronic records management policies and to provide a long-term tool for preserving and accessing permanent digital records. If your agency is interested in learning more about ADAH’s electronic records management program, please contact Rebecca Hebert, State and Local Records Coordinator, at becky.hebert@archives.alabama.gov.

Something Old, Something New: Records and Information Management Section Blog

Did you know that one of the Alabama Department of Archives and History’s (ADAH) central missions is to aid state and local governments in the management of their records? ADAH staff work with state and local agencies on records and information management and on the preservation of permanent records. We also conduct free on-site visits for assistance and training.

This blog is designed to share information pertinent to the management and preservation of government records, including such topics as records retention, professional training, disaster preparedness, electronic records, and more. From the mountains of north Alabama to the Mobile Bay, our blog will relay news from our staff who travel across the Yellowhammer State to train and assist records management liaisons. We will also report the activities of the Alabama State Records Commission and the Alabama Local Government Records Commission.

Who we are and what we do is vital to preserving government records for the benefit of current and future generations of Alabamians. Check out our weekly blog posts to find out more.