Records Disposition Authority: Roadmap for Records Retention

Do you ever wonder why some records are kept for just a couple of years, while other records are kept for decades or even forever? Do you know where to find how long different types must be maintained? Let’s discuss a document that serves as a roadmap for state and local government records retention: the Records Disposition Authority (RDA).

An RDA is designed to help state and local governments manage their records more efficiently by identifying how long specific records should be kept, when records can be destroyed, and which records should be preserved permanently.

The Code of Alabama 1975 mandates that no state, county, municipal or other public official shall cause any state or local government records to be destroyed without first obtaining approval of the State and/ or Local Government Records Commissions (Code of Alabama 1975 § 41-13-21 through 23).

Public officials include not only elected officials, but any employees whose salaries are paid in whole or in part by Alabama taxpayers. The definition references the Code of Alabama 1975 § 36-12-1, which defines the phrase “public officer or servant” as, “in addition to the ordinary public offices, departments, commissions, bureaus and boards of the state and the public officers and servants of counties and municipalities, all persons whatsoever occupying positions in state institutions.”

Public officials from state agencies must obtain approval for records destruction from the State Records Commission, while public officials from local government agencies obtain approval from the Local Government Records Commission (Code of Alabama 1975 § 41-13-21 through 23).

In practice, authorization from the Commissions is provided in the form of retention schedules, called Records Disposition Authorities (RDAs). The RDAs describe the “disposition” of records (temporary or permanent) and stipulate minimum retentions of record types (ex. routine accounting records) after which destruction is authorized to take place.

Permanent records as identified in the RDA (ex. meeting minutes, annual reports) cannot be destroyed and must be preserved in perpetuity. State agencies may transmit permanent records which are no longer regularly referenced to the Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) for permanent preservation. Local government agencies are generally responsible for maintaining permanent records in their communities to provide greater access among citizens.

Temporary records as identified in the RDA may be destroyed once their minimum retention periods have passed. State agencies may destroy temporary records without requesting preapproval from the Alabama Department of Archives and History; however, records liaisons must submit logs of records destroyed in the previous fiscal year as part of the Annual RDA Implementation Report.

Local government agencies must request preapproval from the Alabama Department of Archives and History each time records are to be destroyed. Destruction can only proceed once an agency has received a Letter of Eligibility authorizing destruction of the records. Our next blog entry will describe the Local Government Records Destruction Notice Process in more detail.

Records management staff have worked over the past twenty years to develop approximately 175 State Agency RDAs and 15 Local Government RDAs. State agency RDAs are highly specific and describe the records produced by a single agency in significant detail. Local government agency RDAs describe “classes” of local government organizations, such as “Law Enforcement Agencies” and “Municipalities.”

The RDA serves as the foundation of a records management program that helps state and local governments comply with state records laws, meet operational goals and objectives, document financial decisions and expenditures adequately, and promote transparency in government.

If your agency does not have an RDA, you should contact us at becky.hebert@archives.alabama.gov to start this process.

 

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