According to the National Archives and Records Administration there are two words that records managers never want to hear—unauthorized destruction.

This occurs when records are destroyed or deleted without an approved disposition; when a records has been approved for permanent retention; prior to the end of the approved retention period unless by court order;  when the record is subject to another requirement, such as FOIA or litigation, to retain the record.

NARA and agencies are responsible for the prevention of unauthorized disposal of Federal records. This includes their unlawful or accidental destruction, deletion (e.g. emails) alteration, or removal from Federal custody. Records management must ensure that the approved records schedules are carefully monitored to prevent unauthorized handling and destruction of records.

A serious and current example of why it’s necessary to follow the process to the letter, is one where the National Archives pressed the Justice Department to investigate the possible unauthorized destruction of e-mails and other records within the Justice Department’s office of Legal Counsel. This happened during the time period when the office’s lawyers wrote fiery memos about torture, Guantanamo, and wiretapping without warrants.

Click on the link to read the report of the incident in Newsweek.

Here’s a link to the report from the Justice Department to Paul Webster, Director of the Records Program at NARA.

Finally, here’s a link to the response from NARA, officially terminating the investigation. These processes and the visibility of the exchange is an important part of the history of this country.

 

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