Auditing Your Records Retention Schedule

The auditing process is fundamental to ensuring compliance with the law and best practices. However, many records management officers will get nervous when someone mentions doing an audit. Although it can be daunting to put your program under a microscope, there are many positive things that can come out of doing an audit on your records retention schedule, such as shining a light on previously unscheduled records, tightening up written procedures, and creating workflow efficiencies.

What Is an Audit?

An audit, for the purposes of this article, is “a methodical examination and review.” When taken in conjunction with a records retention schedule, which is a written plan or list of all of the record series of an organization with instructions for their retention, maintenance, and disposition, an audit is basically just reviewing the information on your records retention schedule in a systematic, methodical manner.

A man in a suit points to different hexagons with images and the word "Audit."

There are two types of audits: internal and external.

Internal audits can be entrusted to outside firms that are contracted for that purpose, or they can be done using employees of the state agency or local government that is being audited. In the latter case, the employees conducting the audit may or may not be specially titled and licensed. Internal audit results are principally used to improve internal policies and performance.

External audits are a more formal process conducted by an independent body or organization, with defined limits and disallowed business for the evaluation process. Additionally, while an internal audit is usually optional, external audits are typically mandatory. External audits are chiefly focused on determining accuracy of records and compliance with governing laws and rules. In this article, we’re going to focus on using internal audits to evaluate your records retention schedule.

There are four main steps to the internal auditing process: planning, auditing, reporting, and monitoring. Let’s look a bit closer at each step.


Before starting an internal audit, you’ll want to do some planning to set up the requirements, objectives, timeline, and schedule for the audit.

You’ll gather existing materials, such as:

  • Your most-recent records inventory
  • The current, approved records retention schedule
  • Written policies and procedures
  • Other related materials, like file plans or data maps

Depending on the scope and length of your records retention schedule, you may want to build a team to divide and conquer the task. If you do use a team to audit your schedule, you’ll need to train them on the evaluation process and expected results of the audit process. Then you can set some goals for the outcome of the internal audit. Goals can include:

  • Identifying new or obsolete record series in your organization
  • Bucketing series with complementary functions and retention periods
  • Including additional remarks that enhance the usability of the records retention schedule
  • Designating record copies in departments or divisions
  • Creating optimized, user-friendly titles, descriptions, and remarks
A black spiral notebook with PLAN written on the cover and a pen sit on a bright yellow background.


Next, you’ll conduct the actual auditing of your schedule, using the scope and requirements set up in the planning stage. In the auditing stage, you can examine each record series for thorough and accurate descriptions of the records, ensure that retention periods meet or exceed the established minimums, provide adequate remarks for the maintenance and disposition of the records, and include any legal citations that affect the series. Essentially, you want your records retention schedule to be a complete, defensible plan for managing all of the information created in your local government or state agency.


After all that work, you’ll want to document your findings and efforts. Summarize what your internal audit turned up, as well as the changes you are making to address those findings. Maybe you have a new program that is creating new records, and you were able to add those to your retention schedule. Perhaps you identified series with the same function and retention period and were able to bucket those records for simplicity.


After completing the audit and compiling a final report, you will want to complete periodic monitoring to ensure that any post-audit changes that were implemented are working as intended. If new series were added to the retention schedule, are people using them as intended to manage records? If series were bucketed, are the descriptions adequate to inform employees what records are contained within the series? Revisit your retention schedule with an internal review periodically to ensure compliance with laws and best practices.

A records retention schedule is a living, constantly evolving document; you can’t just create a schedule once and then leave it on the shelf to collect dust, because that doesn’t constitute an active and continuing program. By doing an internal audit or review on your records retention schedule, you can identify gaps in record series, ensure that records procedures governing your program are complete, and be better prepared for an external audit should one occur.

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