2007 State of the Archives Address
Address to the Staff of the National Archives and Records Administration
By Allen Weinstein, Archivist of the United States
November 27, 2007, College Park, Maryland
Good afternoon, and welcome to our annual State of the Archives address.
Shortly after becoming Archivist of the United States 33 months ago, I heard a friendly, if somewhat misguided, bureaucrat describe the National Archives and Records Administration as "a mere housekeeping agency," and therefore one presumably untouched by the dramatic changes in technology and management, responsibilities and roles, affecting the supposedly more cutting-edge agencies in our government.
It did not take me many days into my new post to recognize that describing NARA as a "mere housekeeping agency" was equivalent to describing the Department of Defense as a "mere weapons-making agency." The question of "What does the National Archives do?" is more appropriately answered in the case of this cutting-edge agency by asking "What does it not do?"
- First and foremost, of course, NARA collects and manages for administration and public access the institutional records of all three branches of the American government.
- In the process, it also oversees the declassification of, and conditions for access to, the classified records of the Federal Government.
- Through its Electronic Records Archives and other programs, NARA has been developing the new technology available to serve the electronic records needs of the American government and society—from scratch, no less.
- In a newer mission, NARA has been working closely with state and local government archivists to develop more effective strategies for assisting records recovery, restoration, and access following natural or manmade catastrophes.
- The National Archives has also been developing innovative programs which strengthen civic literacy for American citizens.
- We are engaged in all of these efforts as well as in other special projects—for example, processing the millions of pages of documents related to Nazi and Japanese war crimes and the files of the 9/11 Commission, and maintaining an extremely active national public programs schedule.
Every day, NARA also helps tens of thousands of genealogical and family history researchers and American veterans and men and women of the armed forces, in metropolitan Washington, our 14 regional archives, 17 federal records centers, and 12 Presidential libraries scattered throughout 20 states. We are in all those places.
Welcome, then, my 3,000 NARA colleagues, to this 2007 State of the Archives talk by the head of this improbable "mere housekeeping agency" soon to celebrate its 75th birthday!
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Be prepared for a mixed report this year. We have had highs and lows in 2007, while pursuing our strategic goals, seeking to provide the maximum possible access to public records.
The year now coming to an end has been neither the best nor the worst of times, but still a year of solid achievement for "the NARA family."
Obviously, those of us in this room are part of the family, as well as those who are watching via webcast or videotape—all 3,000 of us nationwide fit that description—from Mary Evelyn Tomlin in Atlanta and Paul Palermo in Boston, to Steven Shultz in St. Louis, Mark Ferguson in Denver, and Kelley Yackley in Seattle. And, for that matter, to my current and future Deputy Archivists: Lew Bellardo and Adrienne Thomas.
Included also are the many dedicated individuals who serve as National Archives volunteers—those here in Washington and more than 2,000 of their fellow volunteers around the country.
Among the members of our extended family are all those stakeholder groups—archivists, historians, records managers—as are the professional researchers, lawyers, historians and journalists who visit us regularly. So too are the thousands of citizens who come to us for help in discovering their family histories.
Before continuing, I want all of you to know how deeply I appreciate the passion and commitment you have displayed as we worked together this past year with limited fiscal resources and a reduced staff. Because of your efforts, we have made substantial and visible progress, even under these less-than-ideal conditions.
Much of the work done at the National Archives is day-to-day and behind the scenes—much too often taken for granted. But this work—your work—is paying off for the National Archives "big time"—by moving us ahead on several fronts to expand public access to the all-important records of American democracy. I feel honored to lead such a dedicated and remarkable professional staff.
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We at NARA were successful this past year in reaching many of our targets. First and foremost, the National Archives continues to be an effective leader and rich resource for other Federal agencies seeking advice on, and tools for, managing traditional and electronic records.
Because of the quality of our staff, because of all of you. Let’s start at the top:
When I became Archivist, several of my senior colleagues asked understandably what my vision was, and were not too pleased when I responded "20/20 with glasses"—a feeble attempt at humor.
But it might have seemed presumptuous then—before I knew their high quality and performance level—to have responded as I would today: That my vision was to lead a group of colleagues who await and expect firm leadership which they themselves provide to those whom they, in turn, lead.
So, senior colleagues, who fulfill that vision, please stand and be recognized when I call your name and position:
- Lewis Bellardo, Deputy Archivist
- Adrienne Thomas, Assistant Archivist for Administration
- Michael Kurtz, Assistant Archivist for Records Services in Washington, DC
- Susan Ashtianie, Director of the Policy and Planning Staff
- Thomas Mills, Assistant Archivist for Regional Records Services
- Sharon Fawcett, Assistant Archivist for Presidential Libraries
- Martha Morphy, Assistant Archivist for Information Services
- William Leonard, Director, Information Security Oversight Office
- Raymond Mosley, Director, Federal Register
- Gary Stern, General Counsel
- Max Evans, Director, National Historic Publications and Records Commission
- Marvin Pinkert, Director, National Archives Experience
- Kenneth Thibodeau, Director, Electronic Records Archives program
- Susan Cooper, Acting Director,Congressional Affairs and Communications Staff
- David McMillen, Acting Director, Congressional Affairs
- Paul Brachfeld, Inspector General
- Thora Colot, Executive Director, Foundation for the National Archives
- Robert Jew, Director, EEO & Diversity
- Debra Wall, my recently appointed Chief of Staff, and
- Mary Ann Hadyka, Senior Policy Analyst
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On to NARA’s primary role: managing, preserving, and providing access to the records of the Federal Government. NARA’s records management services included the Electronic Records Management Toolkit, which was developed by our staff and made available to Federal records managers in 2007.
Our Federal records centers continue to enhance the services they provide to other federal agencies that need storage space and regular access to their records. For the eighth consecutive year, the FRCs turned a profit—this year, eight years in a row, it’s $3.5 million. That's a heck of profit.
We also have developed the Archives and Records Center Information System (ARCIS)—which will streamline the way our customer agencies do business with the records centers.
Our records management training continues to expand and provide certified records managers for other Federal agencies. This year alone, we certified 267 new records managers, bringing the total to 600 throughout the Government.
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The Federal Register continues to blaze electronic trails for us throughout the Government. The Register has provided other Federal agencies with the ability to submit documents for publication to it electronically. And the Federal Register can now update the entire Code of Federal Regulations daily and make it available online.
And we already have begun to prepare for the end of the Bush administration by hiring new archivists and pursuing rental space for temporary storage of its records pending the building of this new Presidential library. We will be ready to accept all the records and artifacts from this eight-year administration in preparation for the George W. Bush Library. We're at work on that already.
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Seventy or so members of our staff in Washington and College Park are now working to reduce—and eventually eliminate—the backlog (optimists would call this a surplus, but I do not) of three billion—yes, billion—pages of unprocessed records, including many that must be reviewed for declassification. The number of these records has been increasing for decades, as each year we have accessioned more records than we could process with the available personnel.
In fiscal year 2007, more than 450 million pages of records were processed. We were able to reach these impressive numbers through teamwork and creativity. To all of you involved in this large-scale effort to open more of our holdings to the public, we offer many thanks for the work you’re doing and the sacrifices you are making. Thank-you.
To deal with the backlog of classified records, we instituted a program of expedited review this year. To make the declassification process more efficient and more effective and less expensive, we bring all the agencies involved in classified reviews to College Park. When a document has to be reviewed by agencies that might have an interest in some parts of it—or "equities"—it can be done right here. This eliminates the costly and time-consuming referrals back to the other agencies.
This year, NARA reviewed and released 1.3 million pages of formerly classified records over which we have declassification authority. In addition, we scanned more than half a million pages of records from the Presidential libraries under our Remote Archives Capture Project—exceeding our goal.
This year, the Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group (called the IWG) closed its shop. In seven years of work, IWG set a record by declassifying more than eight-and-a-half million pages of documents pertaining to Nazi and Japanese war crimes and criminals during both and after World War II. That's our history we're talking about.
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To properly preserve records entrusted to us, we need to ensure their continued good condition and to house them in facilities with proper storage environments.
This year, our preservation staff treated or housed nearly 54,000 cubic feet, exceeding its goal. Nearly 90 percent of that material involved textual, or paper, records.
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The Electronic Records Archives, or ERA, will be the principal system in the American government for storing electronic records and making them accessible to anyone, anywhere, anytime well into the future, regardless of the kinds of software and hardware existing now or then.
There have been some delays in building ERA. But we are working closely with the contractor, Lockheed Martin, with the goal of bringing the project back to schedule within the next several months. The NARA team, assisted by Lockheed Martin, has been working virtually 24/7 over the past several years to complete successfully this "archives of the future," and I promise you will be kept fully informed candidly informed, on its progress developing international training programs, which would will be hearing a lot about in the months ahead.
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The National Archives is always seeking new ways to make access to our holdings easier and more efficient for our customers. But recently, we have had to adjust to funding levels that fall far short of our projected needs and rising operating costs. As a result, of necessity we have taken some significant steps to adjust to this period of austerity—hopefully of limited duration—during the current budgetary impasse.
Sadly, closed our research rooms on evenings and Saturdays, except for once a month. This has created a challenging work environment for our reference and research room staffs at Archives I and II, unhappy customers, and a very high volume of requests on extended hour days.
I want to thank these staff members who have worked on this, for meeting this extraordinary challenge. Thank you, thank you. Please stand and be recognized. And a special thanks to the reference room staff who could not attend today's ceremony because they stayed on duty—evidence that the work and their commitment to it never stops never stops.
On the subject of budgetary constraints, for the first time in seven years, we have had to raise copying fees significantly. We also imposed a hiring freeze, which has since been lifted. Yet, despite tight resources, NARA continues to perform its work seeking the highest level of customer service and satisfaction.
Ninety-three percent of written requests received in 2007 were answered within 10 working days, exceeding a goal of 90 percent. And 88 percent of Freedom of Information Act requests for Federal records was completed within 20 working days, again exceeding a target.
Our web site, Archives.gov, continues to expand access to our holdings—with more than 34 million visits this year. At Archives.gov we offer digital versions of many of our most-requested records and online versions of popular exhibits as well as the rich resources of various data bases.
An even greater expansion of online access lies ahead.
This year, we signed a partnership agreement with Footnote.com to digitize many of our microfilm publication and make them available to the public as well as free in our reading rooms nationwide.
More recently, we signed an agreement with the Genealogical Society of Utah to digitize pension applications of widows of Union soldiers in the Civil War. These documents are of enormous interest to genealogists seeking to construct family histories.
NARA continues to explore additional partnerships to increase access to our holdings and help us provide greater availability to our resources.
In addition, our preservation staff has undertaken its own digitizing projects for items that we believe are too fragile, valuable, or complex to turn over to our partners or contractors for digitizing. We tackle the tough projects ourselves.
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NARA’s primary mission remains that of the nation’s record keeper. But we also work to raise the level of civic literacy so that Americans have a greater understanding and appreciation of the importance of these records to the history of our country and its heritage of democracy.
In pursuit of this goal, this year we expanded our museum, educational, and outreach programs, especially those involving our Presidential Libraries. And our flagship educational vehicle, the Learning Center, recently opened at the National Archives’ headquarters in Washington, DC, generously endowed by the Boeing Company. We thank all those involved.
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On July 11, the Nixon Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California, was transferred to the National Archives from the private foundation that had operated it since 1990. Professor Timothy Naftali is its director. This facility will eventually house all the records pertaining to the extraordinary career of Richard Nixon, including the records of his Presidency, which are now in College Park.
I want to thank all those individuals involved in this long-awaited transfer for their work and to wish the Nixon Library staffs in Yorba Linda and College Park well in this special challenge of blending past, present, and future in this Nixon Library.
Now, with the Nixon Library in the system of Presidential libraries, our Presidential collections from Herbert Hoover to Bill Clinton are complete.
The Presidential libraries also undertook a number of joint projects this year. A new exhibit, produced by the libraries and the Washington-based exhibit staff, involving all the Presidents from Herbert Hoover onward, "School House to White House," is now ending a long engagement in the O’Brien Gallery. The libraries also produced a Presidential Timeline on the Internet and sponsored a major symposium on the Supreme Court and the Presidency, held a few weeks ago at the Roosevelt Library. Planning will shortly be under way for a 2008 symposium to be sponsored by the 12 Presidential libraries under NARA’s oversight.
In addition, the libraries have received some invaluable television exposure through the C-SPAN series on Presidential libraries from Hoover to Clinton.
We also hosted several national programs this year in Washington and Little Rock to commemorate the 50th anniversary of one of the defining moments in the civil rights struggle: the integration of Central High School in Little Rock in 1957.
The Central Plains regional archives will be moving to a site in the heart of downtown Kansas City, where local residents and tourists alike can easily visit, see special exhibits, and learn more about the National Archives.
In New York City, we are working with the National Park Service at the Federal Hall National Memorial to develop a permanent exhibit that will feature documents in our holdings that relate to New York City as the nation’s first capital.
In addition to our normal Fourth of July ceremonies at the National Archives in Washington, this year we featured brief appearances by Ken Burns, board member of the Foundation for the National Archives and creator of the new PBS series on World War II, and by two decorated veterans of that war.
In addition, our educational programs continue to attract social studies and history teachers seeking to make history more interesting to their students by using original documents. This year, for the first time, our "Primarily Teaching" summer workshops were held not just in Washington but in seven other locations around the country.
Nationwide, NARA staff continues to work with local schools and universities on "Teaching American History" grants that bring more and more teachers and students in contact with the National Archives.
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As I noted, we do not yet have our definitive budget for the current fiscal year, but we anticipate that we will still have to operate under challenging conditions.
This has forced us to take a good look at our operating costs, including ever-increasing energy costs. In this connection, I was very pleased with the recent news that NARA’s Clinton Presidential library in Little Rock had become the first Federal building to earn the highest ranking from the U.S. Green Buildings Council for being energy efficient and environmentally friendly.
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I would also like to note here that the National Archives has been active in forging ties with archivists and records keepers from other countries. We often host distinguished foreign visitors, and we are active with other countries on archival issues and on record keeping issues. We are closest to our Canadian friends, and we are collaborating with Library and Archives Canada for an exhibit on the Treaty of Paris and in developing international training programs. Which you will be hearing about in the months ahead.
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Turning to some NARA family matters, this year, we bid farewell to a number of staff members, including several of the senior staff.
Lew Bellardo will leave us in early January after having been Deputy Archivist of the United States since 1995. He has been instrumental in the reform of recordkeeping throughout the Federal Government and in establishing and guiding the ERA program. Personally, Lew has also been for me a wise counselor and a trusted friend.
He will be succeeded in January by his extraordinarily able colleague, Adrienne Thomas, who is currently Assistant Archivist for Administration and another wise counselor.
Please join me now in saluting Lew and wishing him well in the many years ahead, and please welcome Adrienne as deputy.
We have had some other departures from the senior staff in recent months. The Director of Congressional Affairs and Communications, John Constance, left us in May, and Max Evans, Executive Director of the NHPRC, is retiring at year’s end. Bill Leonard, Director of ISOO, is also retiring but has agreed to assist me as a special consultant, a role we hope Lew will also fill.
We named new directors at the Kennedy and Clinton libraries, and we will soon have a new regional administrator in the Pacific region. Your program lists other individuals who have retired or moved on this year.
Some of those who are not retiring have spent decades at this agency, and I would like to recognize those individuals who have 40 years or more with the National Archives. Leading the list, of course, is John Taylor, who came to NARA just a few days after the end of World War II in 1945. John now has 62 years of service with the National Archives.
Others are Frances Brooks, Aloha South, Elizabeth Safly, Rosemary Paul, Kenneth Casey, Charles Johnson, Bernard Gardner, Anthony Bahr, Richard Gorman, Mildred Logan, and Edwin Stokes, Jr.
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But the NARA family, as I said earlier, is greater than the 3,000 paid employees of the agency. Across the agency, from Laguna Niguel and Simi Valley to Fort Worth and on to Chicago and Philadelphia and Boston, we have volunteers who come to our locations every day to assist us in our work—public programs, records processing, and service to visitors. Volunteers, please stand and be recognized. Volunteers, without whom we could not function.
They receive no pay—they do it because they care deeply about this agency and the work we do. I want to salute all of them.
The Foundation for the National Archives has for years been a key partner in helping to inform the American people of the importance of what we do here, and what we have here at NARA.
Through its efforts, the Foundation continues to provide generous support for many of our public programs and outreach efforts. Next year, by the way, the seventh, and final, component of the National Archives Experience, the Digital Archives, will be launched on the Internet. Would the staff of the Foundation please stand and be recognized?
Also important to us are the stakeholder groups. This year, I made a point to visit and speak to a number of them during their annual meetings. They include the Society of American Archivists, the Council of State Archivists, the Organization of American Historians, ARMA International, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the National Association of Secretaries of State, and several major genealogical groups.
Now, as I reach the conclusion of this talk, for which you are all undoubtedly grateful, I can hear that naysayer in the fifth row center, stating to the person next to him: "Surely it wasn’t all progress and achievement? Didn’t anything go wrong? Weren’t there any problems not traceable to a shortage of funding and staff?"
Of course, you know the answer to that question already, and for all such problems, as the Truman sign on my desk reminds me, "The Buck Stops Here."
I want to take time before I close today to thank personally the team dispatched by NARA’s Office of the Inspector General to review the inventories of artifacts at our Presidential libraries, for which no complete inventory had existed.
We at NARA accepted virtually all of the auditors’ recommendations and, as a result of implementing them, we expect to have 5 of the 12 Presidential libraries fully compliant by year’s end and substantial, monitored, independent progress in bringing the others into full compliance at the earliest possible date: a model result for an audit and a prime example of responsible cooperation within an agency involving all levels of NARA staff, including the staff of the Office of the Inspector General. Many thanks to all involved.
When I said we are family, take my word for it. We are family. We have our rougher days but we are family.
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To summarize, all in all, NARA has not only made significant progress on all fronts in 2007 despite the shortage of resources, we have laid the groundwork for even more accelerated progress in the years to come as the National Archives and Records Administration prepares to commemorate its 75th anniversary in 2009.
We meet today, therefore, at a time in which we can all feel great pride, for it is your work, your work, your work that has made this possible. Now, the moment you have been waiting for has arrived: the end of my speech and the beginning of the awards ceremony.
Thank you all . . . and the work continues.