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Reappraisal of Records Saving Millions for Judiciary

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When fully implemented, a new standard for archiving and disposing of federal court case files will allow the Judiciary to reduce its storage volume by just under one million boxes—enough to fill 16 football fields—at an annual saving of approximately $3 million.

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A reappraisal of civil and bankruptcy records schedules already has resulted in a savings of $1.1 million in storage costs of temporary files since 2010. The pre-1996 permanent files now are catalogued and organized, which improves access for researchers and historians.

Changes to court record disposal schedules reduced the transfer period to the Federal Records Centers (FRC) for permanent cases and allowed the purging of many paper records that have accumulated for decades. Every page counts. By law, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) must charge the Judiciary for records storage and in 2010, that cost the Judiciary over $6.2 million.

Without the reappraisal program, which began in 2010, storage costs would have ballooned to $7.2 million by 2012. Instead, yearly off-site storage costs leveled out at $6.1 million in 2011 and are now falling.

"This situation is unique," said Jay Trainer, Executive for Agency Services at NARA. "Neither NARA nor the Judiciary felt the old records schedules were adequate, nor adequately executed. Now the courts, with the AO's Public Access and Records Management Division are stepping up, pushing for reappraisal, and correcting a decades old problem. In terms of records management, the federal Judiciary is very active."

In tandem with the disposal of old records, historic case files are preserved. With the assistance of judges and court officials, historic files are identified and retained in this process. Case or adversary proceeding files may be designated as historic, based on the court's perspective. All civil cases filed at any time that proceeded to trial, and all civil cases filed before 1970 are automatically designated permanent and are not destroyed. All bankruptcy dockets and opinions are retained as well as cases filed under various Bankruptcy Acts, cases dated 1940 or earlier, and Chapter 12 cases.

The permanent cases aren't just packed away; they're indexed and become easier to access and search.

The revised record schedules for non-electronic federal civil, bankruptcy, appellate and now criminal files, is a joint effort of the Judicial Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), and historians. The implementation of revised record schedules is complete for civil cases, and 71 percent complete for bankruptcy. In 2012, the Judiciary received concurrence from NARA for the revision of the records disposition schedule governing appellate cases files and accession of stored files has begun. A new records disposition schedule for criminal case files is being researched for consideration by the Judicial Conference.