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Guide no. 08/04: In-house document management and long-term archiving

Guidelines

 (1) Functions, powers and responsibilities with respect to in-house document management and long-term archiving should be clearly defined.

 (2) All incoming and outgoing documents relevant for official records should be filed and managed within a registry system.

 (3) A comprehensive and current filing plan should be used in line with the respective authority’s tasks.

 (4) As a matter of principle, all records no longer needed by federal entities for discharging their functions have to be offered to the Federal Archives. Records may not be destroyed without the approval of the Federal Archives. This does not preclude general agreements with the Federal Archives about the type of documents to be offered.

 Background

 All documents produced and received in the course of discharging Federal Government functions are official records irrespective of the type of medium on and the way in which they have been recorded. Any document relevant for filing must be registered, filed and made available in an orderly manner.

 The federal constitutional bodies, authorities and law courts, non-department federal bodies and foundations are obliged to offer all documents which they no longer need for discharging their functions to the Federal Archives. The latter shall decide, in conjunction with the offering entity, about the permanent value of the documents for the research in or the comprehension of German history, the protection of the rightful concerns of citizens or the provision of information for legislation, administration or jurisdiction. The Federal Archives shall permanently preserve, make available for use and arrange for the scientific analysis of federal archival material.

 In 2008, we studied the successive steps followed by seven federal entities from retaining records to handing them over to the Federal Archives or, alternatively, destroying them. We found that not all authorities manage their records in a cost-effective and expedient way:

 (1) Since tasks, powers and responsibilities were partly determined inadequately, the tasks of records management and registration were not performed at all or only inadequately.

 (2) By failing to index their records, by registering them only on index cards or in an unsuitable indexing system, some authorities hazarded long processing times.

 (3) Authorities had difficulties with classifying, locating and discarding their records because their filing plans were often incomplete, inaccurate or outdated.

 (4) In a number of cases, authorities destroyed records without seeking the approval of the Federal Archives in individual cases or in the form of general agreements. The authorities thereby infringed the provisions of the Federal Archives Act and risked irretrievably losing records of permanent value.

 Notes

 In addition to the weaknesses pointed out above, we found that applicable regulations were not very suitable especially for cost-effectively managing documents received or furnished electronically, hybrid files and electronic files. We therefore recommended that the Federal Ministry of the Interior revise applicable regulations on electronic document management in cooperation with the other departments and the Federal Archives.

In May 2012, the Federal Ministry of the Interior published “Organisational Guidance for Electronic Administrative Work”. The Guidance describes the legal, professional and functional requirements to be met by electronic files and how they can be complied with organisationally in the course of an authority’s business processes.

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