Why Will the GRS Update Take 5 years?

This post comes from our General Records Schedule (GRS) Team.

Many have asked why the GRS update will take five years to complete. When asked this question at the September 2012 RACO meeting our Chief Records Officer’s response was:   “It took a long time to get the GRS where it currently is and it’s going to take a long time to fix it.” About 80% of the GRS is 20 years old and more; one-third has not been updated in 40 to 60 years. A significant update is necessary to ensure that the GRS meets the Federal government’s needs in the 21st century.

The revision project isn’t a matter of updating a single schedule. The current GRS is made up of 25 chapters aligned by type of record. The plan for the new GRS involves the development of 46 new schedules based on work processes producing records. While the GRS Team will build upon the current GRS, each schedule must be built afresh from the ground up. We will reexamine old authorities to see if they are still relevant, investigate current business practices to identify new records series, and analyze all this information to create more comprehensive schedules.  We are also committed to building new schedules on the bucket model wherever useful. It is not a small task. It’s comparable to an agency updating and revising its entire records manual after 20 years, but even more complicated: rather than looking at records in just one agency, we seek to accommodate all agencies.

We plan to involve agencies in the process and make use of their records management programs’ expertise, but it will take time to research and develop the schedules, obtain stakeholder review, and pursue appraisal. The appraisal and review process for GRS schedules is the same as for agencies schedules, but with this significant exception: GRS schedules usually have many more stakeholders. GRS schedules are reviewed by NARA staff, in some cases regulatory agencies, the public via the Federal Register process, and Federal agencies. Comments from all sources must be adjudicated.  More often than not, schedule revisions are made.

Creating new GRS schedules is a time-intensive project.  For years, GRS responsibility moved from one to another office or team within NARA’s records management function, but always as an ancillary duty.  Now the Chief Records Officer has invested resources by forming a team whose primary responsibility is the GRS. The era of patchwork fixes—small victories punctuating a larger paralysis—is over.  Good things are on the horizon…but well-done universal reconstruction will require an investment of time as well as talent.  We think your patience with the process will be rewarded.