A file plan lists the records in your office, and describes how they are organized and maintained.

File Plan - A classification scheme describing different types of files maintained in an office, how they are identified, where they should be stored, how they should be indexed for retrieval, and a reference to the approved disposition for each file.

A good file plan is one of the essential components of a recordkeeping system, and key to a successful records management program. It can help you:

  • document your activities effectively
  • identify records consistently
  • retrieve records quickly
  • disposition records no longer needed
  • meet statutory and regulatory requirements

File Structure

A file structure is the framework of your file plan.

File Plan

The major steps in implementing a file plan in your office are:

  • identifying documentary material
  • creating the file structure
  • creating the file plan

Identifying documentary material

The first step in implementing a file plan for your office is identifying what you have. Whether you are updating an existing file plan or starting from scratch, you will need to do a survey of what documentary material you have, where it is located, and who is responsible for it. It is important to have an understanding of the functions performed in your office.

You need to identify:

  • Records - FAA-owned documentary material created in the course of business, received for action, or needed to document FAA's activities (e.g., permits, leave requests)
  • Nonrecords - FAA-owned documentary material that does not meet the definition of a record (e.g., reference materials, convenience copies)
  • Personal Papers - Documentary material of a private nature that does not relate to FAA business (e.g., outside business pursuits, activities prior to government service)

There are several ways you can survey the documentary material in your office. A traditional records inventory requires a team of records managers to do a folder-by-folder inventory of all work and storage spaces. Several FAA offices have hired contractors to do inventories. Other offices have used a shorter survey approach, enlisting the help of their network of records contacts and custodians.

Regardless of which method you choose, the final product should be a complete listing of all documentary material created, received and/or maintained by staff and contractors, matched to the appropriate records schedules and disposition items. (See Six Steps to Better Files for details.)

Creating the file structure

Once you have identified what you have, the next step is creating the file structure, by arranging the records schedules and disposition items that apply to the records in your office in file code order.

Creating the file plan

Once you have a file structure, the next step is creating the file plan, by adding folder- or document-level details about the records in your office, as well as information about how they are managed.

At a minimum, the file plan should include the following information for each folder or document:

Who?

  • Person and organization responsible for maintaining the records (i.e., custodian)

What?

  • File code
  • Title of the records
  • Medium (e.g., paper, electronic, video)
  • Access restrictions
  • Vital records status

Where?

  • Location of the records (e.g., room number, storage location number)

When?

  • Date range of the records
  • Dates when the records are closed, retired, and transferred or destroyed
  • Disposition status of records (e.g., active, inactive, hold)

You may want to include other information, such as:

  • Description of the records
  • Arrangement of the records (e.g., alphabetically by site, chronologically)
  • Link to the records schedules
  • Person responsible for maintaining the file plan
  • Last revision date of the file plan

During this process, you may need to make decisions on how the records are maintained. For example, you may need to determine:

  • Who is responsible for the "official record" and who only has convenience copies?
  • Are "drafts" or "working files" included in the record?
  • Is the record copy maintained in a paper or electronic recordkeeping system?
  • Should reference materials be centralized?

It is important to include all stakeholders when making these decisions and to obtain management approval of your file plan.

Conclusion

Now that you have a file plan, you need to train office staff on how to use it. And, remember that it is a "living" document that should reflect changes to your office (e.g., departing employees, office moves, changes in business). It may need to be updated monthly when the records schedule changes are issued. It must also be reviewed at least annually to ensure it still covers all of your office functions. A file plan can be a very effective tool when it is carefully planned, documented, and kept up-to-date.

References

Disposition of Federal Records: A Records Management Handbook