A big part of doing public records requests is the preliminary research. For a lot of FOIAs I’ve filed, research has involved finding the relevant forms for the question(s) I want to answer.

This is where an agency’s records retention policy can come in handy. Most public agencies have either their own paritular records retention policy and schedule or else they usually rely on an already established template/version from “above” (a federal version, perhaps). Regardless of the nature of the template, this schedule is created to lay out the expectations of how long the agency in question retains each document (forms!) it is in charge of creating and maintaing. As FOIA is often an important tool used for requesting completed forms, the agency’s records retention schedule can help guide you on how far back they might have copies of a particular form or other requestable document. It can also come in handy when an agency is refusing to release documents past a certain time and wrongfully claiming they are not “kept” or “held” over a period of time.

A snippet from Texas State's Records Retention Schedule

Fortunately, many agency websites and general .gov pages have links to these record retention policies handy (archives dot gov’s records schedules page is good for this too). Unfortunately, it is hard to find certain city or lower-level government agencies who’s record may differ somewhat from the other state records retention policies. Furthemore, these policy documents are scattered all over the web - sometimes seemingly even not even publicly available.

As I have yet to see a pursuit dedicated to collecting and listing records retention policies through-out the United States on a “lower level”, I’ve decided to start doing so myself here.

I will continue building this table through a combination of scraping state agency webpages to find already publicly-facing records retention schedules and sending FOIA requests for ones that are not so available.

I’ve created this table as a .csv, as to ensure portability, ease-of-revision, and the ability to filter or even grep whatever particular agency or other column data you might need.

If you are interested in freeing up a particular local agency’s records retention schedule, feel free to get in touch with me via twitter to request doing so and I will see what I can do.

I am considering mirroring these webpages and creating copies of the hosted .pdfs of each schedule eventually, in order to dump them in an archive of sorts.. but for now I will simply continue to build the table.