CRS Manual - Agency definition and policy


Agencies are a key element in the National Archives' control system, namely the CRS System. Agency registrations are the main means by which the Archives provides information about records creators. An agency registration contains concise information about the administrative history of the agency, its relationship with other agencies and features of its records over time. 

All agencies that are registered in the CRS System are allocated control numbers with a CA (Commonwealth Agency) prefix and a unique number. The agency should be identified by that number on any listing or related registrations.

In the Archives' control system:

An agency is a distinct and recognisable body which has responsibility for carrying out administrative functions.

An agency will usually have:

This is a broader definition than previously used by the Archives. The previous definition emphasised the existence of an independent general recordkeeping system.

An agency can be part of the executive, legislature, or judiciary. Agencies registered by the Archives include:

The size of an administrative body is not relevant in determining its status as an agency.

Broader administrative context

An agency may be controlled by one or more Commonwealth or non-Commonwealth organisation (CO) either successively, or at the same time.

Many agencies will also belong to a broader administrative grouping or corporation beneath the peak organisation level, for example, a whole department, institution, authority, company or association. A corporation may be part of another corporation. Examples of corporations include:

The corporation under the CRS System has often been regarded as the sum of its agencies at any particular time. Where a corporation within the Commonwealth of Australia consists of more than one agency, the corporation is not necessarily registered separately as an umbrella for the individual agencies within it. The registration for the principal agency within the corporation can be used in place of a separate registration for the corporation. For example, the Archives uses the agency registration for the central office of a Department of State to cover the Department of State as a whole. Information about the department can be placed in the note of the registration for the principal agency. Below the Department of State level, the same convention can be applied: if a corporation comprises more than one agency, the registration for the principal agency may be used to cover the corporation.

Example 1 – Commonwealth

Hierarchical level CRS System registration
Organisation Commonwealth of Australia (CO 1)
Department of State Department of Veterans' Affairs (CA 2107 - the same as the Department's Central Administration )
Central office Department of Veterans' Affairs, Central Administration (CA 2107)
Regional office Department of Veterans' Affairs, Branch Office, Queensland (CA 2368)
Local office Department of Veterans' Affairs, Townsville Regional Office [Queensland] (CA 5006)

Example 2 – Commonwealth

Hierarchical level CRS System registration
Organisation Commonwealth of Australia (CO 1)
Department of State Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts
(which comprises a large number of diverse bodies – departmental, non-departmental and other institutions)
(CA 7872 - the same as for the Department's Central Office)
Central office Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Central Office (CA 7872)
Institution/authority (incorporating separate agencies) National Archives of Australia (comprising a national and several State offices)
(not registered separately)
Head office National Archives of Australia, National Office (CA 7970)
Regional office National Archives of Australia, New South Wales Office (CA 1726)

A corporation that is outside the Commonwealth of Australia often equates to, and is registered as, an organisation (CO) in the Archives' control system.

Example 3 - Non-Commonwealth

Hierarchical level CRS System registration
Organisation Institution of Engineers, Australia (CO 62)
Head office Institution of Engineers, Australia, National Headquarters (CA 2128)
Regional office Institution of Engineers, Australia, Sydney Division (CA 3110)

Registration policy

The National Archives of Australia registers agencies for two main reasons:

The provenance of records is shown by documenting the following three relationships that exist between agencies (or persons) and records:

Agency recording An agency that created or continued to document a series, having inherited the series from another agency
Agency transferring An agency that physically transferred the records to the Archives or other custodian
Agency controlling An agency that is currently responsible for some or all of the functions or legislation documented in records within a series

Agency recording and agency controlling are major access points for retrieving information about records and the records themselves. Agency transferring and other agency-to-records relationships are not formal access points, but are documented in notes present in CRS registrations. Similar relationships are also documented between persons and personal records.

Apart from the role of indicating provenance within the control system, agency registration also aims to provide information about agencies that will help users interpret the content and significance of the records. This information includes the period the agency operated, its functions and purpose, its place in the administrative structure and its relationships to other agencies.

A secondary purpose of agency registration is to depict the structure of government administration at a particular time and to document the effects of administrative changes. Descriptive information about administrative units in the government helps to build a picture of hierarchical and chronological relationships between agencies (see s. 6(1)(d) of the Archives Act).

The Archives' chief focus is to document those agencies that have a recording or controlling relationship with the records with which it deals.

The Archives does not expect to register all agencies that exist or have existed. Do not register an agency simply to indicate that it has, or might have, Commonwealth records covered by the Archives Act. Defer such agency registration until a recording or controlling relationship needs to be documented on a series registration, or where it is needed to place the agency within the administrative hierarchy, such as the head office of an authority that has several State offices.

It is to be expected that there will be gaps in the representation of the overall administrative structure if not all agencies have been registered. However, the existence of such agencies will normally be evident from secondary sources such as directories and annual reports, or from references made in registrations for superior or related agencies.

Which agencies need to be registered?

Register administrative bodies that meet the agency definition if there is also a need to impose intellectual control over the records of those bodies: that is, to indicate an agency recording or controlling a series.

Avoid registering the same agency twice. Consult the finding aids before registration to confirm that an agency has not already been registered, possibly under a variant title.

Register agencies belonging to non-Commonwealth bodies only where there is an immediate and direct need for the Archives to control the records of such bodies.

Non-Commonwealth bodies that are creating records on behalf of, or under contract to, Commonwealth institutions should not be registered as agencies. (For further information see 'Agency recording' and 'Agency controlling'.)

Treatment of ministerial offices

The Archives' convention is not to register Ministers' offices as separate agencies. Where attribution of records to a Minister's office is required to show a recording or other relationship, use a Comments entry for the relevant central office of the department in a series registration. (For further details see 'Agency recording'.)

Documentation of unregistered links

The Unregistered Links Note contains textual information about unregistered links: that is, relationships between agencies where one of the agencies is not registered in the CRS System. The practice of documenting unregistered links has largely been discontinued and only legacy data is maintained.

Document unregistered links between agencies only in exceptional cases where:

In other cases, the information can be included in the Descriptive Note.

In general, all agencies or persons that record, and all agencies that currently control, a series should be registered in order to provide access points to the series. Do not use unregistered links simply to save time or to avoid registering agencies that should be registered according to the Archives' policies. Unregistered links entries should not be used for information that is dubious, uncertain, or unconfirmed: a more appropriate area for this sort of information is the Descriptive or Archivist Note, where an explanation may be given.

Level of agency for agency recording a series

Agencies may exist at several levels in the one administrative hierarchy, for example, a department may have a central office which controls a regional office which, in turn, controls a local office.

Staff should attribute a series to the agency (or agencies) most closely responsible for the relationship that they are documenting. In documenting recording relationships, staff should resist the temptation to attribute a series to a higher level agency that has already been registered rather than to register a new, lower level, and more appropriate agency recording.

Unless there is absolutely no alternative, do not attribute a series to a superior agency of the actual creating agency. To do this can lead to insufficient or misleading information about the provenance of the records being included in the finding aids. Also, it does not provide adequate access points in the control system for the series concerned: that is, the actual agency recording is not formally indexed. Attributing records to their recording agencies, and registering those agencies, as necessary, is the first priority.

In certain cases there may be complex and inconsistent administrative arrangements within a department, particularly at lower levels, and staff may be uncertain about the appropriate level of agency to which to attribute a series. Over time, variations in practice can lead to confusion and difficulties in retrieval. Where necessary, the officer responsible for registration and description will determine the appropriate administrative levels to which to attribute series for certain departments. These determinations will be issued as supplements to this manual.

If you wish to include more precise information about the source of a series below the nominated level for attributing agency recording, add a qualifying comment to the Agency Recording entry on the series registration, specifying the actual office or program creating the records. However, such a comment should not be used to avoid registering an agency recording that should be registered.

Staff should be careful when attributing an agency recording to records which have come from the same source, but at different times and through different channels, for example, initially direct from the recording agency but later through a superior agency to the recording agency. Ensure that the level of the agency recording attributed is correct and consistent.

Level of agency for agency controlling a series

An agency controlling a series does not have to be at the same level in the administrative hierarchy as the agency recording. The relationship is of a different nature.

In many cases a higher level agency, such as a central, state or area office of a department or other institution, will assume responsibility for disposal, access and financial obligations for records recorded by lower level agencies.

When should agency registration occur?

Recording agency registrations are tied to series registrations because of the need to show relationships between series and agencies. Any new series registration, apart from those recorded and controlled by persons, will need to attribute the series to at least one agency recording. A new agency registration will be needed where the relevant agency or agencies are not already registered. Staff should register agencies to show controlling relationships with series when this is necessary to reflect administrative change and meet management needs.

Logically, staff should register the agencies recording a series before the series itself is registered, but not necessarily far in advance. The advance registration of agencies may be done in cases where the Archives is confident of a future need to impose intellectual control over the records of those agencies, and it is convenient to register them.

The registration of agencies to provide control numbers for new Departments of State should normally occur within a few days of the creation of those departments. This registration is handled centrally by the Archives' Canberra Office to facilitate the re-attribution of records to the current Minister responsible and agency controlling.

Other early registration should be limited to the central and major State or regional offices of Commonwealth institutions as defined in the Archives Act, as these agencies are likely to create records of enduring value.

Documenting agency hierarchies for control and retrieval purposes

In some cases it is necessary to register an agency that is at a relatively low level in an administrative hierarchy, even though its superior agencies have not been registered - apart from the central office of the relevant Department of State. In such cases it is highly desirable for the main superior agencies to be registered at the same time, not only to provide administrative context, but also to foster consistency and make the most efficient and timely use of the information that is gathered in the registration process.

Commonwealth departments often have offices in several States and territories. Where it is necessary to register related but geographically separate agencies, the responsibility for registration, where practical, may be given to one of the Archives' offices. For example, the registration of all the State offices of a department may be done simultaneously by the Archives' Canberra Office to avoid having more than one office gathering the same basic information.

If you are planning to register an agency that is part of a wider network of (as yet) unregistered agencies, you should notify the officer responsible for registration and description who will assess the likelihood of future records transfers and registration activity for these agencies and coordinate any necessary registrations.

In addition, there is often a need to establish an agency identification convention within institutions with complex organisational arrangements and structure, for example, CSIRO and Department of Defence. Specific instructions for the registration and description of such agencies are issued periodically. They are not necessarily covered in these general procedures.

Agency hierarchies and umbrella organisations

For some corporations, the hierarchical structure can be very complex. Two such networks, CSIRO and RAAF, are particularly complex, so have been explained here in detail.

Hierarchy of CSIRO agencies

Often superior and subordinate agencies are co-located, but operate quite independently of each other. For CSIRO agencies, the superior agency to a laboratory will be the laboratory which houses the divisional headquarters, eg

Division of Horticulture, Merbein, has as its superior agency, Division of Horticulture, Urrbrae, because that is where the Division’s headquarters is located, notwithstanding the fact that it is also the site of the Glen Osmond laboratory.

Umbrella administrative structures, such as the marine laboratories and the Queensland Centre for the Advancement of Technology (QCAT), are not to be registered as agencies. The records they create, such as the main correspondence file series, financial and personnel records, will have the relevant divisions listed as joint creating and controlling agencies.

The hierarchy of agencies in descending order is:

Hierarchy of RAAF agencies

The hierarchy of agencies in descending order is:

Title changes

A name change for an agency does not necessarily mean that the agency has to be re-registered under the new title. There are conventions that the Archives follows in regard to changes of name. The most marked difference is between agencies which are Departments of State, or have Departments of State in their title, and agencies not created in Federal Executive Council.

The tables below set out the main criteria for determining when a name change is or is not appropriate. It is by no means exhaustive. Nor can any criteria be applied without exception, except those relating to Departments of State. See 'Previous Title Note' for advice on how to record information concerning previous titles.

Criteria for determining whether or not to register a new Department of State

If a new Department of State is created by Federal Executive Council New registration
If an existing Department of State is renamed (may or may not gain/lose functions) New registration
If an existing Department of State is not renamed but loses/gains functions No new registration
If a Department of State changes its Head office to Central office or something like that Name change only
- latest in the title
-reference to former structural name in Previous Titles Note
Agencies that have Department of State in their title New registration required if new Department of State registration required


Criteria for registration or revision of other agencies

Mergers of existing agencies, even if name of one remains New registration for single agency
Name change that accompanies significant functional shift or intention to shift focus New agency registration
- this is the most difficult to determine and there may not always be a consistent response
Name change, but minor or no functional change Latest name in agency title, previous reference in Previous Title Note