Army Archives CAM meeting declassified archives military archives Military archives legislation

The Portuguese Army Archives System

By Colonel Carlos Alberto Borges Fonseca, Secretário-Geral da Comissão Portuguesa de História Militar and Assessor no Instituto da Defesa Nacional

The Committee of Military Archives thanks our colleague Carlos Alberto Borges Fonseca for his committment and his participation to this project after the 2021 CAM meeting.

1. Introduction

The need to control the growth of documentation produced by the Army services determined the need to define and standardise the documental series and assign them their final destination.

The Law 121/92 established the principles for managing documents produced and received by the public administration. The General Archives System and Archive Heritage sought to rationalise the life cycle of documents, controlling their growth in numbers and minimising the costs of their conservation.

New legislation within the framework of the Basic Law of National Archives was needed, which would define the life cycle of Army documents through a Selection Table and an Archival Conservation Regulation to control documents from their production to its final destination.

The elaboration of this draft regulation necessary for the archival conservation of the Army and the respective selection table was the main task of the Army Archives Working Group (GTAE).

The GTAE was appointed with the objective of studying the application of adequate norms for the management of archival documents and proposing guidelines for the elaboration of the Army Archival Conservation Regulation (RCAE) in order to regulate document management operations in their evaluation, selection, transfers and disposal phases.

Picture 1. Law n. 121/91

A diagnosis of the Army archives enabled the knowledge and assessment of the archival reality. On the other hand the consequent characterisation of the situations experienced allowed the definition of objectives and the design of strategies for the level of the archive system and the presentation of proposals in order to preserve the Army’s documentary heritage. These strategies included:

– The development of an urgent action in order to prevent the dispersion and destruction of files and documents, namely those of the former overseas provinces, those related to the 25th of April/Movement of the Armed Forces, with those of Military Units that were extinguished or transferred, through the survey and identification of documentation;

– The standardisation of archival procedures;

– The definition of forms of accessibility to documents, with special interest for documents with security classification, taking into account the procedures in force, as well as the application of security standards;

– The awareness of the various Army services about the importance and the need to preserve documents of a historical nature in order to preserve the historical-cultural memory of the institution;

– The intensification of cooperation between the primary archives, the General Archive of the Army (ArqGEx) and the Military Historical Archive (AHM);

– The publication of the RCAE, through a proposal from the GTAE, in order to regulate document management operations in their aspects of evaluation, selection, transfer and elimination;

– The correct and timely working of the documentary circuits, transferring the documentation to ArqGEx and from there to the AHM, according to the administrative and historical value of the documents;

– The study of the problem of documentary reproduction (microfilming, digitisation, etc.), especially historical documentation, in order not only to avoid the handling of the originals and their consequent deterioration, but also to allow the decentralisation of their storage;

– The elaboration of permanent execution rules for the working of the document management system, with regard to the evaluation, selection, classification, transfer and incorporation of archival fonds.

2. Elements of the Army file system

The AHM was created in 1911 following the reform of the Army but it was not until 1964 that the Army’s archive system was established with the approval of the provisional regulation of ArqGEx. The Army started to have its own organ with archival competence and three types of archive to which the different phases of the so-called life cycle of documents correspond.

Currently, the Army Archives System consists of three levels, classified according to the value of the documents and their frequency of use:

– Current Files of Units/Establishments/Organs (U/E/O);

– General Archive of the Army;

– Military Historical Archive

a. Current Files of Units/Establisments

The Current Army Archives of the U/E/O hold the documentation that is in current use or available for consultation as they are of major importance for current administrative practice.

They comprise the set of archives in use in the different areas (sections, divisions, etc.) and the primary archive of the respective unit.

They depend on the command of the unit to which they belong in accordance with the provisions of the  General Regulation of Service in Army Units (RGSUE).

b. Army General Archives

The Current Army Archives of the U/E/O hold the documentation that is in current use or available for consultation as they are of major importance for current administrative practice.

They comprise the set of archives in use in the different areas (sections, divisions, etc.) and the primary archive of the respective unit.

They depend on the command of the unit to which they belong in accordance with the provisions of the  General Regulation of Service in Army Units (RGSUE).

Picture 2. Army General Archive
c. Military Historical Archive

The AHM working as definitive archive holds the documentation that has lost its administrative character and has gained informative and historical value therefore receiving a permanent conservation status (inactive phase).

In this context, it should be understood as the archival entity with competence to carry out the custody, treatment and preservation of all Army related historical valued documents.

Picture 3. Military Historical Archive – old building

3. Documental circuit

The documental circuit is ensured by sending documents from the primary archives to the intermediate archive and from there to the definitive archive, as established by the general rules of public administration and by the specific rules of the Army.

The remittances of documents from the primary archives of the U/E/O to ArqGEx and from there to the AHM make it possible to rationalise the spaces and use of the Army archives and keep the documentary circuits in operation with a view to preserving documentation of historical and informative value.

This circuit was interrupted until 1995 due to the lack of effectiveness of the regulatory norms. Back then the option was to expand the ArqGEx facilities, both due to pressure from the U/E/O that intended to deliver their files, and as a result of of general restructurings that implied the extinction or alterations of the U/E/O. The lack of space and the impossibility of ArqGEx receiving documentation caused the destruction of many document fonds at the military units level, without any intervention at a higher level, thus losing essential testimonies of the historical memory of the Army.

In order to overcome this situation, the final decision in terms of the destination to be given to the documentation, from 1995 onwards, came under the competence of the Document Classification Commission (CCD), which ensures the Army’s document management.

Based on this principle, remittances can only be made by decision of the CCD according to priorities previously determined or according to a plan prepared by the CCD itself and provided that they respect the Army’s document circuit.

Document fonds, although subject to screening at the three levels of archival, maintain, whenever they are transferred, their original organisation, normally based on the producer U/E/O classifier.

Picture 4. Law 107/2001
a. Remittances to the General Archive of the Army

It is up to each U/E/O to prepare an annual plan for sending documents to ArqGEx that after the administrative retention period are no longer in everyday use, but which may be considered occasionally due to their administrative interest.

Each U/E/O must send to ArqGEx, for approval by the CCD, a list of documents by installation units (packs, boxes, books, etc.) that they propose for disposal (from the point of view of U/E/O with no administrative value within its scope), after the administrative retention periods set out in the Selection Table. The original classifiers, recovery instruments developed by the producing administrations, must accompany the document lists. According to the needs, the CCD, together with ArqGEx, can elaborate particular complementary provisions for the elaboration of these backlogs.

Picture 5. Army General Archive

Remittances to ArqGEx imply the transfer of ownership of documents from the U/E/O to this Archive, although the transport of the documentation to the receiving service is the responsibility of the sending unit.

The ArqGEx, as an intermediate archive, must establish the frequency of shipments, without prejudice to the conservation periods established in the selection table.

b. Remittances to the Military Historical Archive

When documents acquire a secondary value, translated into their historical interest, that is, whose archival value justifies their permanent conservation, they are finally sent by ArqGEx to AHM. Sometimes, though rarely, there may be direct transfers from the primary archives to the historical archive.

These remittances are made, by way of incorporation, by mutual agreement between the ArqGEx and the AHM. Complementary control and reference instruments such as classifiers, auxiliary files, indexes, etc., which have allowed the retrieval of information in the current U/E/O file or even in the intermediate file, must also be sent to the AHM, accompanying the corresponding documentation.

The incorporation of documents, in addition to their transport and deposit in the archive, also means an official change in the title of ownership and custody of the documentation on a definitive basis. The receiving archive having now full jurisdiction over these documents. However, there may be some exceptions, in the case of documentation sent as a simple deposit, which does not imply a change of custody, in which case there must be an agreement between the two parties on the conditions that the documentation needs to be available to the public and the date from which the documents may be communicated must be clearly specified.

Picture 6. Military Historical Archive – old building
c. Special documentation Shipments

The transfer of documents with security classification complies with specific regulations established in specific legislation.

All classified documents older than 5 years and not of interest to the U/E/O but of historical interest must be proposed for transfer to ArqGEx or AHM.

However and whenever possible, these documents must be declassified by the producing entity, before being sent to ArqGEx or AHM. In the case of mixed consignments, classified and unclassified documents, the respective classification grades must be marked at the installation units and proceed in accordance with the corresponding standards.

The documentation of extinct units in the possession of current units, must be transferred to the ArqGEx without any selection and accompanied by a list by installation units. This list must indicate the installation units (boxes, bundles, folders, etc.) that contain classified documentation and the respective degrees of security classification, proceeding in accordance with the specific standards.

From the transfer of documentation related to former overseas provinces and mobilised units or over 20 years old, documents in which their administrative conservation is governed by specific rules, namely individual, clinical, criminal or financial processes, are excluded.

The files useful to the activity of the heir or depositary unit can be kept on file, in which case ArqGEx must be informed.

Picture 7. Law 16/93
d. Remittance formalities

Any shipment of documents from the primary files of the U/E/O to ArqGEx, and from there to the AHM must be accompanied by a Delivery Notice and a Delivery Note.

e. Deletion of documents

Deletion is the operation by which documents with no secondary value are destroyed, after the statute of limitations for administrative conservation established in the Selection Table. Performed at the level of the primary files of the U/E/O, it is the responsibility of the person responsible for the service holding the documents, after approval by the CCD.

Whenever it is intended to eliminate documentation that is not included in the aforementioned Selection Table, the CCD must proceed with the preparation of an evaluation report that it will submit to the appreciation of the National Archives Institut/ Torre do Tombo as the coordinating body of the national policy of files.

The disposal of documents with security classification must take into account the security conditions established in specific legislation, except if it is a single copy, autographed copy or copy no. as soon as convenient, all classified documents replaced or not necessary, provided that their historical value is not recognised. Installation units with classified documents, included in the list of documents proposed for disposal, must have the respective classification grades marked.

Disposal must be done through a system that makes it impossible to reconstitute documents, namely destruction or maceration followed by sale and incineration, in accordance with criteria of rationality, confidentiality, means and costs.

The elimination of documents is done according to the Selection Table according to the administrative retention periods and the final destination assigned to each document series.

At the beginning of each year, the existing documentation in the unit’s primary file, which may be deleted, must be analysed. Each U/E/O will send a list of the documents it proposes for elimination after the expiration of the conservation periods, to ArqGEx, which will present it to the CCD for consideration. After authorisation, the documentation must be destroyed by the primary archives under the guidance of the referred commission. Destruction of documents that are not included in the Selection Table or without the authorisation of the CCD is prohibited.

The elimination of documents must be registered in a Notice of Elimination that will provide legal proof of asset write-off.

This record must be accompanied by a list containing the eliminated archival units, which makes it possible to subsequently constitute the so-called “Ideal Inventory”, i.e. the joint inventory of the preserved and eliminated documentation.

Picture 8. Law 447/88

4. Army File System Control Elements

a. U/E/O Document Review Committees

The directive “Provisional Standardisation on the Preservation of Military Documentation” corrected some of the procedures of the Permanent Enforcement Norms (NEPs) of the former Office of Documentation, Libraries and Archives, preventing the elimination of any documentation at U/E/O level without that there was a prior appraisal of the document lists, by the CCD, at the request of the units. This directive was then generally integrated into the RCAE and the NEPs of the Archives. These should continue to nominate, annually, a commission to proceed with the analysis of all the documentation existing in the respective archive, drawing up a list of the one proposed for destruction, as its administrative and administrative value has expired, within the scope of the U/E/O. technician.

For the transfer of existing military documentation in the U/E/O, attention should be paid to the provisions of the aforementioned directive, which prevented any destruction of documents before the procedures recommended therein were carried out.

According to this directive, all U/E/O must transfer to ArqGEx, accompanied by a list of installation units (packs, boxes, books, etc.), all documentation belonging to extinct U/E/O and deposited in current U/E/O, related to former overseas provinces and mobilised units and over 20 years old, not currently used by U/E/O.

Picture 9. Military Historical Archive – new building

Files of extinct units whose heir, depositary or continuator U/E/O considered useful for their own activity were excluded; and documentation whose administrative conservation was regulated by specific rules, namely individual, clinical, criminal and financial processes, in which case ArqGEx must be informed.

In accordance with the RCAE and the Rules for Permanent Execution of the Army Archives, the Documentation Analysis Commission is appointed at the beginning of each year, in a Service Order, consisting of 3 elements: Head of the Secretariat, Department of Expedient and Archive or equivalent body, and two people familiar with the handling of documentation, in order to proceed with the analysis of the existing documentation in the primary archive, drawing up a list of what it proposes to the CCD, operating at ArqGEx, to disposal, after the administrative retention periods have expired.

All documentation accumulated (produced and received) by the U/E/O must be analysed and the security officer must support the CCD with regard to security classified documentation. The Document List must be structured based on the file classifier of the U/E/O, and the installation units (boxes, folders, packets, etc.) must be numbered according to this structure. After being approved by the Commander or Director of the U/E/O, the list of documents is sent together with a copy of the classifier to ArqGEx, which will present it to the CCD for consideration in order to decide on the possible historical value of the documentation contained in the backlog.

By indication of ArqGEx, the U/E/O will exclude from elimination the documents selected by the CCD to transfer, awaiting indication of the ArqGEx to carry out their transfer.

The remittance or transport of the documentation to ArqGEx is the responsibility of the U/E/O sender, and a Delivery Note attached to the Delivery Notice must be prepared for identification and control of the documentation sent. The remaining documentation will be destroyed at the U/E/O, and a duplicate elimination notice will be prepared. The original will remain at the U/E/O and the duplicate will be sent to the CCD, which will send it to the National Archives Institute/Torre do Tombo (IAN/TT).

Picture 10. Military Historical Archive – new building
b. Document Classification Commission

The CCD coordinates the operation of the Army’s file system through document evaluation and selection operations, both of which are its sole responsibility.

Through the evaluation of the documentation, this CCD determines the archival (primary) and/or historical (secondary) value in order to establish the administrative conservation periods and determine the final destination of the documentation (deletion or permanent conservation). The transfer and elimination of archival documents proposed by the U/E/O can only be carried out by the U/E/O after the authorisation of the CCD.

Initially its action was defined in the Regulation of the General Archive of the Army, being later regulated by the Directive of “Provisional Standardisation on the Preservation of Military Documentation”, and finally by the RCAE.

In accordance with ArqGEx’s regulations, it is responsible for examining and classifying all documents, classifying them as useful and useless and proposing the destruction of the latter; classify useful documents into historical and administrative interest, proposing the delivery of the former to the AHM after a deadline to be established, sub-classify the latter and send them to the respective sections; specify from among the documents of administrative interest those that have potential historical value, allocating archiving time to them; and collaborate with the U/E/O primary archives.

Within the scope of the RCAE, the CCD is responsible for coordinating the operation of the Army archives; to prepare the internal regulation of document management; and monitor compliance with the rules in force within the scope of the file system.

In order to carry out the functions of classifying and evaluating documents, this commission is assisted by an AHM delegate, and this representative is responsible for definitively deciding on cases of classification in which there is disagreement with the other members.

Picture 11. Military Historical Archive. new building

5. Selection Table

Since the evaluation, while determining the primary and secondary value of the documentation, is based on the documentary series, constituted by archival units of the same fund whose aggregation was determined by the needs of the service, taking into account criteria of administrative or other rationality, the GTAE built a Selection Table organised by functional areas, to be adopted by the current files of the U/E/O, to which reference numbers were assigned.

For the elaboration of the draft regulation, the following steps were necessary:

– Survey of Army documentary series based on unit classifiers, interviews with those responsible for U/E/O files, legislation study, etc.;

– Assignment of administrative conservation periods and final destination of the documentary series that make up the selection table;

– Development of a database to support the Selection Table design;

– Introduction of documentary series in the database;

– Preparation of the index of the documentary series, entered in the Selection Table, as an auxiliary tool for information retrieval;

– Elaboration of the text of the ordinance project composed by the RCAE.

The project proposal was submitted for consideration by the U/E/O, in order to consider criticisms, opinions and suggestions for the timely planning of possible changes.

The organisation of the series in functional areas to the detriment of the organic-functional areas was related to the fact that the Army is an extremely complex institution since it is composed of numerous units, bodies and establishments, each with its specific organic structure.

The reference number consists of two fields, the first corresponds to the functional area and the second to the alphabetical order of the series, however the Selection Table should not be used as a document classifier.

In each functional area, the documentary series, ordered alphabetically, were numbered with a minimum of 4 digits and spaced out to safeguard the eventual entry of new document series, thus allowing the continuation of the alphabetical order. Whenever a series is composed of documents of a particular type (eg invoices) it can be processed in batches on a half-yearly or annual basis.

The Selection Table indicates, for each document series, the minimum periods of administrative conservation of the documentation, in years, related to the interests of the services themselves and with the tax deadlines and legal obligations that the law defines. This minimum term must be understood as the minimum time of permanence in the primary archives of the U/E/O. The table applies, in principle, to documents issued by the issuing body (originals), namely to single copies or, in the case of multiple documents, to the autographed copy or to copy no. 1.

The documents must be kept in the files of the U/E/O according to the minimum periods indicated in the Selection Table, attached to the RCAE. Documents whose conservation is determined by special regulations, in the case of documents with a security classification, are subject to the provisions of the respective regulations. Any documentary series not included in the Selection Table is considered permanent conservation until the respective conservation period is defined.

Once the administrative retention periods have been indicated, the final destination to be given to the documentation was established: elimination or permanent conservation, with the consequent entry into the documentation transfer circuit, based on its remaining administrative, historical-cultural or other interest. Documentation with reduced fees for administrative use, and in accordance with what is stipulated in the selection table, must be sent to an intermediate file, in order to rationalise the use of current U/E/O files.

The indication of the final destination must be understood as a rule, although the CCD may decide on a case-by-case basis, establishing its own criteria. In this way and in accordance with the ordinance, the U/E/O are always obliged to make proposals for the elimination or transfer of documents or archival funds to the CCD, since this commission, operating at ArqGEx, is the coordinating body of the Army Archives System, being responsible for the decisions regarding the application of the table and document transfers.

It is, therefore, the responsibility of the CCD to verify the application of the Selection Table, especially in terms of series that are no longer of current use, which presupposes the regular examination of conservation plans, in order to identify the documents that should be deleted or transferred to ArqGEx.

The remarks field appears to explain some references.

This draft legislation containing the RCAE and its Selection Table, was submitted to the National Archives Institute/Torre do Tombo as the management body of the national archival policy, and approved by the Ministers of National Defence and Culture on 22 May 2000.

The entry into force of this table introduced some innovations in terms of conservation and selection of documentation as well as in the circuit of periodic transfers of archives from the U/E/O to ArqGEx and from this to the AHM, allowing the standardisation of archival procedures at the level of Army.

The Selection Table must be subject to periodic reviews in order to adapt it to possible changes in the documental production and in the archival structure that organizes it. Table changes or revisions of selection, introduction of new documentary series, change of deadlines, etc., are prepared by the CCD, based on proposals from the Army’s U/E/O. These proposed changes must be communicated to the CCD, mentioning the following: name of the department or service that proposes the change; recommended changes, inclusion or deletion of certain measures, namely at the level of series, retention periods, etc.; explanation and justification of proposed changes; signature of the person proposing the change and authorising it; proposal date. In turn, the CCD must send the final proposal for revising the Selection Table to the National Archives Institute/Torre do Tombo.

Picture 12. Law 272/2000

6. Conclusions.

The RCAE made it possible to regulate the functioning of the Army Archives System, in its current, intermediate and final phases; ensure the conservation and remittance of permanent conservation documentation to the definitive archive; promote the elimination of documentation with no secondary value, after the administrative retention periods have expired; guide and support the classification of documents; regulate the replacement of supports and the accessibility and communicability of documents.

The practical results of the entry into force of this regulation will promote a reduction in the volume of documents to be read and the information to be retrieved; to save space by removing documents that lose their current usefulness, as it avoids the use of additional locations and equipment; effective document control; and identification of documents that must be preserved according to their archival value.

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