The Bucketing Strategy as a Precautionary Solution

a parcel or a package tied up with string; relates to "bundle" mentioned later in the article

Agencies or local governments that are tight on storage space might look forward to speedily carrying out disposition on records that have met their full retention periods, but there are cases when reaching a destruction eligibility date may not put the records manager in the clear to destroy or transfer those records. In those cases, having an eye toward assessing potential risks as records near their destruction eligibility dates has its benefits for anyone who has a responsibility for or a need to access those records.

For example, if you have interrelated records with different retention periods that have a likelihood of being tied to investigations, litigation, studies, public information requests, audits, and consequently destruction holds or freezes, consider using the bucketing strategy to avoid the separation of those documents. This can minimize the chance of future troublesome situations.

Briefly, bucketing is maintaining several types of records together, using the retention period from the element that has the longest retention period, and applying that retention period to all the elements in that grouping of records. In addition to the bucketing considerations that are outlined in To Bucket or Not to Bucket…? and Getting the Most Out of Your State Agency Retention Schedule—Part 1: Structure, you can use this approach as a type of safeguard after considering what risks your agency or local government could face for not having preserved those records as an inseverable bundle.

Before exploring a few examples of record types that are useful to bucket, give thought to these questions to plan the next right move for your records management team:

  • What do you think are some ways your agency or local government can tighten up its records management practices?
  • Does your records management program have procedures in place to safeguard records from ill-timed or accidental destruction?
  • For bucketing in Electronic Document Management Systems, do you need to collaborate with your IT department, or will you need to reach out to your third party provider to find a way to make sure interrelated records are not destroyed too soon?
  • How often is your records management system tested internally to identify areas for improvement and correction?
  • Have all potential risks been considered and addressed in its policies and procedures, and are all records custodians well versed in those procedures?

In consideration of related record types, there are retention warnings sprinkled throughout the local government retention schedules and the state records retention schedule. How do you think the usefulness of bucketing would come into play if an employee decided to file a lawsuit against their agency after the creation of the various types of records below? In such a situation, what kinds of issues could surface if the ombudsman, HR department, legal team, and other relevant units each handled records disposition in isolation from each other? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Record Series Item No. (RSIN)Record Series TitleRecord Series DescriptionArchivalRetention PeriodRemarks
3.1.039Ombudsman RecordsConsultation records, notes, letters, memos, emails, reports, and other documentation. ACAC= Final decision or matter closed. CAUTION: Does not include formal complaint filed with EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). If matter becomes a grievance or the subject of counseling or litigation, or employee is subject to disciplinary action, the records are subject to retention in the appropriate records series. See RSIN 1.1.0483.1.0063.1.0183.1.020, and 3.1.021.
3.1.018Grievance RecordsRecords relating to the review of employee grievances or complaints against personnel policies, working conditions, etc. AC+2AC= Final decision on the grievance. CAUTION: Does not include formal complaints filed by an agency employee with the Equal Employment Office (EEO) of the U. S. Department of Labor (DOL). See RSIN 1.1.048.  
1.1.048Litigation FilesRecords created by or on behalf of an agency in anticipation of or in the adjudication of a lawsuit.RAC+1AC= As applicable, decision of an agency not to file a lawsuit or decision that a lawsuit will not be filed against it on a matter; dismissal of a lawsuit for want of prosecution or on motion of the plaintiff; or final decision of a court (or of a court on appeal, if applicable) in a lawsuit.

What do you think are some potential problems that could surface if the record types below are treated merely as codes or types in a retention schedule? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Record NumberRecord TitleRecord DescriptionRetention PeriodRemarks
GR1000-03a  MINUTES  Written minutes.PERMANENT. 
GR1000-03gMINUTESSupporting documentation – One copy of each document of any type submitted to a meeting of a governing body for consideration, approval, or other action; if such action is reflected in the minutes of the meeting.2 years.Retention Notes:  a) The retention periods for many of the documents submitted to a governing body for action are established elsewhere in this or other commission schedules and are often longer than the 2-year retention period for supporting documentation set here. The 2-year retention requirement does not override a longer retention requirement set elsewhere, but rather is meant to ensure that all documents presented for action by a governing body are retained at least two years. This schedule does not require that supporting documentation be maintained together, but the retention by the clerk or secretary to the governing body of one set of the documents submitted at each meeting (often called “council packets” in municipalities) for two years would ensure satisfaction of the minimum retention requirement. Clerks or secretaries to governing bodies should exercise caution in disposing of supporting documentation to avoid destruction of the record copy of a document for which they are custodian before the expiration of its retention period. b) Review before disposal; some supporting documentation, not already required to be maintained PERMANENTLY elsewhere in this or other commission schedules, may merit PERMANENT retention for historical reasons.

Certainly, you will need to test and monitor your records management system for flaws regularly to stay ahead of legal pitfalls. If you have identified vulnerabilities in your records management program, come up with a game plan to tackle the issues. Below is an example you can use as a starting point to create a plan for your specific situation:

What is the problem? Where, when, why, and how did it happen?
A record was destroyed even though it recently became part of a lawsuit. “Department A” deleted the record on 3/6/2021 because of routine disposition practices, but the current disposition procedures did not require Records Liaisons to verify whether there was a hold/freeze on certain records due to pending litigation, etc.
Who needs to be involved to fix it?
RMO, IT Department, Legal Team, Records Liaisons, Department Heads
What needs to be done now, and who will be responsible for carrying out each part of the solution to repair the gap in the system?
The RMO and Records Liaisons will update the agency’s disposition procedures to include a checklist where Records Liaisons will need to receive signatures from Department Heads and the legal team to ensure the records on the disposition request form can actually be destroyed (i.e., no connection to litigation, no ongoing studies, no audits, etc.). Training will be provided to all Records Liaisons and Department Heads.
How long will it take to fix?
1 week to update the agency disposition procedures, 2 weeks to train target groups.
How will the organization prevent a similar occurrence in the future?
The legal team, along with the RMO, will create a tracking system where Department Heads and Records Liaisons can easily flag and track records that need a disposition hold/freeze. Periodic refresher training will be provided to the target groups to ensure proper steps are taken to lift the hold/freeze and to clear records for destruction. These new operating procedures will increase communication between different departments and Records Liaisons. The disposition process will be more rigorous, including a new signature checklist and a Hold/Freeze Tracker for added clearance verification.

Careful consideration of the connections between certain records in a retention schedule, anticipation of problems that may arise, and preparation to prevent those issues, such as using the bucketing strategy, will contribute to a more efficient, solid records management system. Spot and fix potential problems now, and the ripple effect of that forethought will benefit more than just your records management team.

When in doubt, consult your legal team, or you can reach out to your TSLAC analyst for help with deciding which record types could be advantageous to bucket.

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