Here is the law.
What Exactly Are Federal Records?
According to law, Federal records are defined as:
"...documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received by an agency of the United States Government under Federal law or in connection with the transaction of public business and preserved or appropriate for preservation...as evidence of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the Government or because of the informational value of the data in them."
This definition is intentionally broad to ensure that documentation of Federal Government activities is sufficient to serve as a record of the conduct of Government business. It is also important to be aware that "preservation" does not always mean permanent preservation and that some documents are still records even if they only have very short life spans.
Records exist in many different formats in addition to paper documents, e.g., working files, drafts, E-mail messages, data and spreadsheets, computer output, data from test equipment, results of computer modeling, videos, maps, architectural drawings, and microform. Employees must apply the definition of a record to such documents to determine whether they merit retention as records. Employees should remember that official Agency records include both final products and documentation supporting the decision trail.
Can Records Be Removed from the Agency?
Federal law (44 U.S.C. § 3105) requires agencies to establish safeguards against the removal or loss of Federal records. These safeguards include notifying agency officials that:
Criminal penalties are provided for the willful and unlawful destruction, removal, or private use of Federal records.
Concealment, Removal, or Mutilation of Records (18 U.S.C. § 2071)
Whoever willfully and unlawfully conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates, or destroys, or attempts to do so, or, with intent to do so takes and carries away any record, proceeding, map, book, paper, document, or other thing, filed or deposited with any clerk or officer of any court of the United States, or in any public office, or with any judicial or public officer of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.
Whoever, having the custody of any such record, proceeding, map, book, document, paper, or other thing, willfully and unlawfully conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates, falsifies, or destroys the same, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both; and shall forfeit his office and be disqualified from holding any office under the United States. As used in this subsection, the term "office" does not include the office held by any person as a retired officer of the Armed Forces of the United States.
Heads of Federal agencies are required to notify the Archivist of the United States of any actual or threatened unlawful removal or destruction of records in their custody.
Unlawful or Accidental Removal, Defacing, Alteration, or Destruction of Records (36 CFR 1230.14)
(a) The head of a Federal agency shall report any unlawful or accidental destruction, defacing, alteration, or removal of records in the custody of that agency to NARA (NWML), 8601 Adelphi Rd., College Park, MD 20740-6001. The report shall include:
(1) A complete description of the records with volume and dates
(2) The office of origin;
(3) A statement of the exact circumstances surrounding the alienation, defacing, or destruction of the records;
(4) A statement of the safeguards established to prevent further loss of documentation; and
(5) When appropriate, details of the actions taken to salvage, retrieve, or reconstruct the records.
Agencies are also required to ensure that departing officials do not remove records from Agency custody.
Agency Recordkeeping Requirements (36 CFR 1222.24)
Agencies shall develop procedures to ensure that departing officials do not remove Federal records from agency custody.