Getting the Most Out of Your State Agency Retention Schedule—Part I: Structure

The state agency recertification process can be daunting. A formal letter arrives from the State Records Administrator. The letter cites the chapter and verse of state agency scheduling rules. An email with an eight page attachment of tips, tricks, and rules is then deposited into your email inbox. It can seem like a lot, especially if you are a new RMO who has limited experience with the state agency retention schedule recertification process.

Fear not. Over a couple of articles, we are going to dig into the nitty gritty of state agency retention schedule recertification.

For an overview of the full process please view our webinar on the topic: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/slrm/webinars/recert101

The first topic we are going to address with this series is the structure of your retention schedule. Every state agency and public university in Texas has their retention schedule available for inspection and download and TSLAC’s webpage: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/slrm/state/schedules

A brief perusal will reveal that all that state agencies do things a little differently, but guess what: they can all be correct.

Broadly speaking, there are five different approaches to the structuring of your retention schedule: Departmental, Functional, Big Buckets, Hybrid, and Narrative. And of these five, four can fit snugly into the required SLR 105 form and we can work with the fifth. Let’s take a look at each.

Departmental

Gears representing different departments.

A departmental schedule is the most prominent of retention schedule structurings. In short, this schedule type is broken down by department/office/division, and each series within that unit is listed individually.

Pros:

  • Targeted. If you’re in a given work unit, you know where in the retention schedule to look for the records you create.
  • Can be more customized. Instead of using the generic title from the RRS, the name of the record series can be changed to fit the record type more exactly. For instance, my team produces “General Correspondence” every day. But we don’t call it general correspondence. We call it Local Government and State Agency Consulting. If TSLAC used a pure departmental schedule, we’d be able to more accurately describe the general correspondence produced by my work unit. The same goes for the description of the record series.
  • Simplifies public information requests (PIR), audits and other inquiries. A more targeted schedules makes identifying responsive documents that much easier.
  • Easy to train new staff to use. Instead of showing them how to use the entirety of the schedule, you can just train new staff on what series they and their department are responsible for producing and receiving.

Cons:

  • Needs to be comprehensive to be usable. This means that records series should repeat across the schedule. General Correspondence, Transitory Information, and other common series should appear under each department. If a common series is missing from department’s section of the schedule, should they be able to use that series listed underneath a different department?
  • On a similar note, structuring your schedule by department means it is going to include more line items. It could potentially be very long.
  • Will need to be updated and refreshed more often. Inventorying should occur more regularly to make sure your retention schedule is accounting for new record types being produced. For instance, if support services determines that written minutes should be kept of their departmental meetings, a new series should be added to the agency’s records retention schedules to reflect this.
  • A legislative (or TSLAC) extension of the retention period for one records series that appears several times across your retention schedule means that the responsive amendment will be that much longer.

Functional

Gears representing different business functions

Functional schedules eschew departmental specificity and list bigger general records series not tied to any particular workgroup. The State Records Retention Schedule is largely function based.

Pros:

  • Fewer records series to maintain. The entire schedule is shorter than it otherwise would be. Updates are easier as well. Don’t need to worry about updating all of the Contracts series if your schedule only has one.
  • Similarly, no duplicate record series. So every division produces correspondence? Well, every division can use the same series.
  • Record series names and descriptions are standardized.

Cons:

  • May require more training. Requires user to be familiar with the overall business processes of your agency as opposed to just the records they or their team are responsible for.
  • May require additional documentation to assist users in assigning correct record series. For instance, a crosswalk may be necessary for users tie their particular records to a more generalized schedule. (Maybe even a call to your TSLAC analyst.)

Big Bucket

Gears representing big buckets

Big Buckets take functional scheduling to its logical extreme. After functions have been identified, similar functions would then be combined into a larger record series. TSLAC played with big bucketing techniques on our recent update to the State Records Retention Schedule. Budget records, accounts payable and accounts receivable—among others—absorbed all of their constituent parts. A big bucket extremist might wonder why we stopped there.

Pros:

  • Classification is vastly simplified. There simply aren’t enough series to be confusing to the user.
  • Fewer series means much shorter schedule. Easier to digest for users.
  • Maintenance is easy. New function created by agency? There’s probably already a responsive bucket for it. Less amendments to submit.

Cons:

  • Potential to over-retain certain bucketed record series. To stay compliant, minimum retention periods outlined by TSLAC must be adhered to. If one series that is FE+3 is bucketed with a series that is FE+5, then they both must be kept for at least FE+5.
  • If you thought functional retention schedules were not specific enough, wait till you see a Big Bucketed schedule. Using a Big Bucketed approach, you’ll need to eschew even more description of series in order to avoid series over-bloat. It also becomes harder to distinguish Vital Records from others if they are lumped into a big bucket. A supplemental document may be required to account for records with special considerations.
  • It becomes much more difficult to account for series defined as AC (after closed). Could create a new bucket for series that have similar event triggers and retention periods, but creating a parallel construction for event based retention periods and non-event based retention periods could potentially confuse the initial impetus of using Big Buckets in the first place.
  • The same goes for series with archival considerations—those items marked for direct transfer or review by a TSLAC archivist. You may end up with so many carve outs for special consideration series that you’ll be singing Hank Williams.
  • Lastly, SLRM wants to account for all of those bucketed RSINs, so if you do employ a Big Bucket strategy for series that appear on the State Records Retention Schedule, make sure that you include all bucketed RSINs in the Remarks column for cross-referencing.

Hybrid

Gears representing hybrid schedules

But it doesn’t have to be all one structure or another. More and more state agencies are discovering the joys of creating a hybridized records retention schedule using the best parts of departmental, functional, and big bucket scheduling. How does this work?

At first glance these hybrid schedules may appear to be broken down by department. But a closer reading will reveal that the record types listed under each department heading are the series that are exclusively created by the listed department. For instance, only the Accounting Department has a record series for Accounts Receivable Records. To supplement the departmental structure, these schedules usually implement some kind of general section for those record types that are produced by all or more than one department. This is where the functional structure kicks in. General Correspondence, Transitory and other universal records series are listed here.

Within each department the functions become more clear and retention responsibilities show themselves. Take the personnel file for instance. Usually maintained by an agency’s Human Resources department, the applicable records series on the state RRS run about two dozen. But many are event based with the trigger being the termination of a given employee. Retention periods vary, but broadly speaking there are six distinct retention periods. The responsive series can be bucketed into a larger series based on their common retention period. Or, if you don’t mind over-retaining certain record series, you can expand the bucket to be more inclusive. For instance if you file these series together, it probably wouldn’t hurt to just bucket everything that has retention period of AC+5 or less into a series called “Personnel Records” or something similar. I picked this specific example, because recently The Texas Record did a deep dive on the topic here: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/slrm/blog/2019/06/the-personnel-file-retention-best-practices/

Pros:

  • Hybrid schedules are the most customizable. Specific where they need to be and general where it makes sense.
  • Users will only need to familiarize themselves with two sections of the schedule—their department’s section and the general section.
  • Makes the most of each schedule structure.

Cons

  • By retaining a departmental foundation, the schedule could run fairly long.
  • Requires users to be both familiar with their specific series and general business functions of your agency in order to use.
  • Stylistically inconsistent. One series under department zigs while another general series zags.

Narrative

Steampunk tiger telling the story of the schedule.

The four schedule types described above are all suitable for our SLR 105 form. TSLAC has reviewed and approved all types over the years. But is TSLAC limiting State Agencies to a simple Excel form? Absolutely not. Many agencies are incorporating a narrative preface into their recertification packet. What constitutes a preface when it comes to a records retention schedule? Well, anything useful you’d like to include in the public facing PDF of your schedule that we share on our website. Some ideas include:

  • AIN Legend. Some AINs are self explanatory (e.g. HR01—Human Resources Department or GEN01—a common series across the agency.) But we know that AINs can be tied to budget codes or be otherwise nondescript. Including a legend up front will inform users and the curious public what your AINs signify.
  • Custom cover page. We have our order that we present your retention schedules on our page (Approval Letter, 105c, Caution Note, RRS), but State Agencies can prepare a custom page with agency branding. Though not quite a 1.3.001—State Publication, that doesn’t mean it can’t be dressed up like one!
  • Further explanation of what the various fields mean. The SLR 105 has a guide to retention and archival codes, but for the uninitiated more guidance can be helpful. What’s the difference between the AIN and RSIN? What can be found in the Remarks column?
  • An upfront addendum. Is there anything about your agency or the way you structured/use your retention schedule that is relevant for successful use?

Pros:

  • More context is always appreciated by users (and reviewers) of retention schedules.
  • The presentation of your schedule is enhanced. It can read more like a manual than a schedule. We will host what you send us (within reason) on our public facing website, so worth considering when you recerify.

Cons:

  • There’s one main con when it comes to providing a narrative along with your retention schedule, and it’s an RMA problem. We can’t necessarily review it. If a mistake is made in the AIN legend, we won’t necessarily know. I proof them for spelling errors, but that’s the extent of it.
  • More of a consideration than a con, but anything on the narrative portion of your retention schedule cannot be incorporated into our Texlinx database. In fact, the narrative should be submitted separate from the 105 form. So if a series is only useful in the context of the addendum, you might consider incorporating that information into the actual series.

If you have a schedule you’re happy with but are interested in submitting a narrative to accompany it, talk to you analyst! We are always looking into improving the ways we make your schedules available, so we are happy to provide guidance on this.

Conclusion

Texas State Agency and Public University schedules come in every shape and size. Some state agencies dramatically change the structure of their schedule every five years! TSLAC analysts love to review them all. What’s most important to TSLAC is the proper stewardship of state records. So whether you’re submitting a short functional schedule or a sprawling 1000 line departmental schedule, the choice is yours. As long as you’re adhering to the required TSLAC minimums—massage the structure of your schedule to fit your agency’s purposes!

Have questions about the structuring of your RRS? As always, reach out to your designated analyst: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/slrm/state/agencylist.

Like it? 2

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *