The Federal Archives have the legal responsibility of permanently preserving the federal archival documents and making them available for use. This includes documents (files, papers, cartographic records, pictures, posters, films, sound recordings and machine-readable data) arising from the central institutions of the Holy Roman Empire (1495-1806), the German Confederation (1815-1866), the German Reich (1867/71-1945), the occupation zones (1945-1949), the German Democratic Republic (1949-1990) and the Federal Republic of Germany (since 1949). The Federal Archives decide whether these documents are assigned a lasting value for research into, or understanding of, German history, the ensuring of the legitimate interests of citizens or the provision of information for legislation, administration and jurisdiction.
The Foundation Archives of Parties and Mass Organisations of the GDR in the Federal Archives keeps the archives of the central leadership organs of the parties, unions and mass organisations of the GDR. It also looks after the Federal Archives Library, the core of which is formed by the library of the former Institute for Marxism-Leninism and other GDR service and organisation libraries.
The Federal Archives also collect personal papers of important personages, documents of parties, associations and societies of cross-regional importance, as well as published sources. Non-state records are acquired for the Federal Archives through an active acquisition and transfer policy. Defined collection profiles determine which personal papers and collections or papers of associations and parties, can meaningfully supplement the state archives.
At the same time it has responsibility for the central German Film Archive.
The Federal Archives provide access to its archives through a research platform with online overview of its holdings and inventories that include digitised data, a picture database and a comprehensive Internet presence. Usage on the premises is possible at any time during the opening hours as long as the regulations laid out in the Federal Archives Act are observed.
A further central responsibility of the Federal Archives is to protect the archives from any form of danger, to restore and conserve these or, if the originals can no longer be maintained or this would be uneconomic, to transfer the information to new, more sustainable, carrier material. The archives are also made use of in scientific source editions and exhibitions.