July 30, 1998
Statement of the Archivist of the United States on Litigation Alleging the Destruction of Federal Records
College Park, MD. . . Archivist of the United States John Carlin today made the following statement concerning a law suit filed on July 24 against Attorney General Janet Reno as head of the Department of Justice and himself as head of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA):
Public Citizen Litigation Group has filed suit in federal district court alleging the improper destruction of electronic records in case management systems in the offices of United States attorneys for the Western District of Kentucky and the District of Minnesota. The suit includes me with Attorney General Reno as a defendant because of my legal responsibilities as Archivist of the U.S. with respect to the protection of federal records. The fact is that, in keeping with those responsibilities, I began investigating the allegation before the Public Citizen Litigation Group filed the lawsuit.
Specifically, on June 22 I received a letter dated June 18 from Staff Attorney Colette G. Matzzie of the Public Citizen Litigation Group containing the allegation and requesting an investigation. At my request, the director of NARA’s Modern Records Programs, Michael L. Miller, formally conveyed the allegation to the Department of Justice, on July 2, in a letter to its departmental records officer, Bernard W. Berglind. The letter points out that Federal agencies are required by law to notify the Archivist of the United States of any "actual, impending or threatened unlawful removal, defacing, alteration, or destruction of records in the custody of the agency . . . " And in addition to raising three specific questions about the department’s record keeping practices, the letter said the following:
We would appreciate your prompt investigation of this matter to address, first, whether an unauthorized disposal took place as alleged. If an unauthorized disposal occurred, what safeguards does the Executive Office of the United States Attorneys (EOUSA) have in place to prevent such disposals from occurring again and what efforts are underway to reconstruct any destroyed data?
We are currently awaiting a response from the Justice Department. In the meantime, the Public Citizen Litigation Group knows that we have taken this action. In a letter sent on July 2, simultaneously with our letter to the Justice Department, Mr. Miller thanked Staff Attorney Matzzie for bringing the allegation to NARA’s attention and informed Ms. Matzzie that we had asked the Justice Department to "investigate the allegations and report its findings to us for review and evaluation."
Under relevant legislation, federal agencies are responsible for the management of their own records, and though I, as Archivist of the United States, can provide guidance, I do not have independent statutory authority to inspect their records except to make recommendations for the improvement of an agency’s records management program. However, agencies need my approval to destroy records, and are required to work with me to prevent the unlawful destruction or removal of records. If I receive no satisfactory response to NARA inquiries into allegations of unauthorized destruction, I then must request the help of the Attorney General and inform the Congress.
For additional PRESS information, please contact the National Archives Public Affairs staff at (301) 837-1700 or by e-mail.