Records management is the systematic control of records and information from creation to disposition. This includes how records are created, how they are managed throughout their life, and what happens to them at the end of their life. For most, however, records management is about the retention and disposition of records. 


Figure 1 Lifecycle of records

Records Retention

Records retention is the length of time that records must be kept before they can be disposed of (either destroyed or transferred to the Washington State Archives). For Washington State agencies, these retention periods are set by records retention schedules approved by the State Records Committee under RCW 40.14. No public record can be destroyed except as listed on the retention schedule.

While retention schedules and retention periods are required by law to ensure records are retained and available for the public to request, they also ensure that agencies retain records for other legal, financial, and administrative purposes. For example, financial records have a six-year retention period to match the statute of limitations for financial transactions.

Retention schedules

The retention schedule is a list of the records created, maintained, used, or received by the agency, along with the approved retention and disposition instructions for each record type (called a “record series”). Below is a page from the DES unique retention schedule, as an example:

At DES, we have two retention schedules that govern the records we create:

The State General Schedule lists records that are common across all state agencies, such as financial records, personnel records, etc. The DES unique schedule covers records that are unique to DES’s functions, such as the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) Case files in the image above.

Records disposition

Disposition is the action that happens at the end of the records lifecycle. For most records, disposition means destruction or deletion. For some records with long-term historical value, disposition means transferring the records to the Washington State Archives for permanent retention.

Disposition, particularly destruction/deletion, must be halted if the records are responsive to an active public records request or litigation hold (or if you have knowledge of a pending hold), even if the records are well past their required retention period. Once the hold is lifted, the original retention requirement once again applies (i.e., the retention “clock” continues to run during the hold, so if the item comes due for disposition during the hold, the item can be destroyed/transferred to the Archives once the hold is lifted).

Destruction should also be documented, including the records description, the records series’ Disposition Authority Number (see the retention schedule), the date range of the records, and who approved the destruction.

You can use the Disposition Form to document the records your office destroys.


For more information on Records Retention, click here.