Update: 2010 Decennial Census Records Schedule

The process to schedule the records of the 2010 census has reached an initial milestone. The Census Bureau has submitted a schedule providing for disposition of 2010 decennial census records for NARA approval. NARA’s initial review indicates that the proposed schedule meets the concerns of genealogists and other users of decennial census records for research purposes. Perhaps of most importance to genealogists, the proposed schedule provides that the 2010 decennial census forms will be preserved in the form of scanned images. This is similar to past practice with census forms. Paper forms have not been preserved for any of the 20th century censuses, with microfilm having replaced paper as a permanent medium for the forms. For 2010, the Census Bureau is preserving the digital image of each census form as well as the data base containing response data and linkage information to the scanned images. (Further background and commentary on issues relating to the schedule is available on our sister blog, NARAtions.)

Given the submission of this important schedule, we think it useful to outline the process by which NARA appraises Federal records. Let’s begin with some context. Federal agencies cannot dispose of their records without authority from NARA, and one of the more important responsibilities of the Archivist of the United States is to approve the disposition of Federal records. To obtain such disposition authority, Federal agencies develop and submit a schedule providing mandatory instructions for what to do with records when no longer needed for current Government business. Approval of the schedule grants Federal agencies the necessary authority to (1) destroy temporary records in accordance with retention periods set forth in the schedule and (2) preserve those records that have permanent value for transfer to the National Archives. We have developed an FAQ about records scheduling here.

Once we receive the schedule at NARA, the appraisal process begins. Appraisal involves determining the value and the final disposition of records, making them either temporary or permanent. NARA appraisal archivists work with the agency records officer and program officials who manage the records to ensure that the proposed schedule ensures government accountability and that its provisions are sufficient to meet the business needs of the agency. NARA appraisers also seek to determine the usefulness of the records in documenting legally enforceable rights or obligations, both of the Federal Government and those of persons directly affected by the agency’s activities. Finally, appraisers seek to ensure that those records which uniquely document the National experience or otherwise have sufficient value to warrant preservation are identified as permanent records and slated for transfer to the National Archives. In addition, NARA works with the agency to ensure that questions about format and technical specifications, especially concerning electronic records, are properly resolved.

After the appraisal is complete and the schedule finalized, notice of the schedule appears on the Federal Register. The notice enables the public can to request copies of the schedule and the appraisal and advise NARA of any concerns about the schedule’s provisions. NARA considers and resolves the comments before forwarding the schedule to the Archivist for approval. To facilitate public review on this census schedule, we plan to take the extra step of posting the schedule and the appraisal and providing a link for citizens to express any concerns about the schedule.

We’re committed to transparency in processing the schedule for disposition of 2010 decennial census records. We’ll use this blog to keep you informed of our appraisal of these records and, and more importantly, provide you with the opportunity for reviewing and commenting upon the schedule.

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