FOIA Advisor

FOIA News: OGIS Explains the role of NARA's Federal Records Centers in FOIA

FOIA News (2018)Ryan MulveyComment

FOIA and NARA's Federal Records Centers

Nat'l Archives & Records Admin., FOIA Ombudsman, June 13, 2018

We sometimes hear from FOIA requesters and agency personnel who are confused about why a FOIA request for records at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is not processed by NARA. The answer has to do with whether the federal agency or NARA has legal custody of the records, and requires a brief explanation.

NARA only takes legal custody of records that have been determined to be of permanent historical value. The term of art used by records management staff for the transfer of permanent records to NARA is “accessioning.” “Accession” is the process of transferring legal – and in most cases physical – custody of permanent records from federal agencies to NARA. See 36 C.F.R. § 1235.  While the terms “transfer” and “accession” are often used interchangeably, there is an important distinction. “Transfer” refers to moving records into the physical custody of a NARA Federal Records Center (FRC). The transferring agency, however, retains legal custody of the transferred records until final disposition.

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