About the National Archives

Archivist's Speeches (1997)

John W. Carlin
Archivist of the United States

Hello, and welcome to this presentation. As most of you know, I use this form of communication when I have something of particular importance that I want every NARA employee, in every NARA facility all across the country, to hear directly from me personally.

You heard from me in this way when we established our basic strategic directions, when we created our Strategic Plan, and again when we began a staff reorganization to implement the plan.

Today I have something of equal importance to say. I want to describe the State of the Archives on the occasion of reaching another major milestone in our progress.

September 30 was a significant date for us all. It marked the end of the Federal Government's 1997 fiscal year. And as it approached, you and I both wondered for a moment whether the Government was going to shut down because Congress hadn't appropriated Fiscal Year 1998 budget dollars.

Happily, there was no shutdown. First, the Congress passed a "continuing resolution" to keep us all going. And more recently, the Congress passed the bill that provides money for NARA for Fiscal Year 1998.

As I reported to you in a NARA notice, we did well in that bill. We'll have roughly $8.2 million more for operating expenses in 1998 than we had in 1997, money that, among other things, will help meet both electronic infrastructure and preservation needs. In addition, the bill provides more than $14 million for badly needed repairs and restorations at some of our facilities.

This is not all we need, but it is a great help. We can all be pleased that the President and Congress have recognized the urgency of NARA's needs and the value of NARA's services.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge that many people helped make this happen. We spoke with "one voice" all across the agency, carrying out the values of the Strategic Plan, and showing that it does make a difference.

But September 30 was significant to NARA for another reason as well. That's the date when, after a lot of hard staff work, we delivered our fully developed Strategic Plan to the Congress and the Office of Management and Budget.

I can guess what some of you thought as you heard me say that: "Come on Carlin, we thought NARA already had a Strategic Plan. What's that blue booklet that we worked with you to produce last year?"

Well, you're right. We do have a Strategic Plan. It is in the blue booklet we distributed to all of you last fall. That plan describes our mission, our vision, our values, our needs, and our strategies for getting where we want to go over the next ten years.

But there are some things the blue-covered plan doesn't describe. It doesn't describe in detail what we'll do between now and the year 2007. And it doesn't say how we'll measure our performance.

The Government Performance and Results Act requires that Federal agencies' strategic plans contain all those things. And I believe that good management requires those things.

Therefore, in the expanded plan that we delivered on September 30, we've added more specific goals, detailed performance targets, and explicit performance measures. We've not changed the substance of the original plan, but we've refined its language and added a lot more detail. Many of you helped determine what that detail needed to be, and I'm grateful to you.

Also, we consulted with staff members of congressional committees, and the Office of Management and Budget, to be sure that our additions to the plan were complying with Federal law.

I'm proud of what we produced, and proud of the NARA people who worked with me to produce it.

You'll all be getting copies of the expanded plan soon, if you haven't already, and you'll be able to tell it from the original blue plan, because the expanded version is not only thicker, but is a different color. "Cheerful yellow" is what I think our design team calls it.

But the most important thing about it, as you know, is that we're going to use it. The fact is, we already have.

In my preface to the extended plan, you're going to find something right away that was largely absent in the original blue version. You're going to find a summary of progress we've already made toward our strategic goals.

Even as we were filling out the plan, we also were starting to do some of the things that it calls for. And let me explain what's happened with our plan so far, and what needs to happen next as we start into Fiscal Year 1998.

Our mission remains what the blue plan said it was—NARA ensures, for the citizen and the public servant, for the President, the Congress, and the Courts, ready access to essential evidence. By "essential evidence," we mean Government records that document the rights of citizens, the actions of Federal officials, and the national experience.

In the blue plan, we identified things NARA must do to be able to provide access to essential evidence. The expanded plan now pulls those things together under four strategic goals. In essence, these goals call for strengthening records management, expanding access to records, preserving them in appropriate space, and increasing our own ability to provide these services.

Already, we've made significant progress in all our office units, in the regions, in the Presidential libraries, and in Washington.

First of all, as called for in the plan, we've begun to reorganize into fewer administrative units, so that we can break bottlenecks and duplicate efforts, improve customer service, and manage records consistently across their lifecycle.

Instead of dividing ourselves into units that deal with records only at different points in their lifecycle, we now have records services units that take responsibility for bodies of records at different points in their lifecycle. We now have records services units that take responsibility for bodies of records from their creation all the way to their ultimate use.

This means we will be more consistent in the advice we give Federal agencies on records management, and it means that what we hear from users about the records they need will help us advise agencies on which records to retain.

We are in the midst of a final review before the second phase of our lifecycle reorganization is complete. I'm convinced that this reorganization will create the necessary structure for implementing much of the plan. What, then, have we done so far under the plan to improve records management?

We have designed a pilot for gathering baseline information on agencies and records management practices and problems. We have increased emphasis on records management in the field, where regional administrators and records management coordinators will represent NARA to Federal agencies' sites throughout the country.

We've worked out an accessioning and declassification plan for State Department records, reached a new agreement with the FBI for systematic review of its electronic, as well as paper records, and taken several steps to improve management of records across the country.

I am only summarizing work done by the records services offices both in Washington and in the regions, but it is substantial.

What have we done so far to expand access to records? We've significantly advanced our Electronic Access Project, which is important not only because it carries out a project developed by NARA staff, in coordination with Senator Kerry, but also it gives us an excellent opportunity to work together as one agency across the country, as called for in the Strategic Plan.

We have greatly expanded in the regions, as well as in Washington, what the public can learn online about our holdings and services. We've processed, for public access, 116 million pages of previously classified material, and opened 201 more hours of Nixon White House tapes, as well as taped material in the Johnson, Kennedy, and Eisenhower libraries.

The Federal Register has made many more of its much-used publications electronically accessible in whole, or in part. Several reference units have met or exceeded timeliness goals for responding to inquires. And they are increasingly using electronic means to do so.

We've improved turnaround time for meeting requests for reproductions of material in our holdings, and our National Personnel Records Center has dramatically decreased its reference backlog.

Several exhibits in our Washington, DC, Rotunda, and our Presidential libraries, have brought our holdings to the public in the past year as envisioned in the plan. And the Senate of the United States passed a resolution praising the help our NARA archivists have provided to the search for "Nazi Gold" that was looted from Holocaust victims.

What about our goal to preserve records better and get them in appropriate space? We have completed preservation duplication of two million feet of motion picture film, exceeded by three times our target for the year for preservation of electronic records files, and prepared for the opening of the George Bush Presidential Library. And we have begun work to improve space conditions in other Presidential libraries and regional facilities.

And finally, for our fourth goal, we want to increase NARA's capabilities for making changes necessary to realize our vision. As I've explained, the reorganization itself is a major contribution to that goal.

Also, we've nearly fulfilled our commitment to convert many intermittent positions to full-time and part-time status, and we received money in the 1998 budget to complete the conversion.

Additionally, we've automated editorial processes, and revised regulations and guidance in ways that improve editorial submissions from agencies to the Federal Register, as well as improving access for its users.

We have trained 69 managers and staff members in project management. We've expanded computer training for staff of Presidential libraries and regional facilities. We've started discussions internally on electronic records issues. We've taken steps to improve the information infrastructure for all of us at NARA. And we've hired a development officer to seek private sector financial help, as called for in our plan.

If I haven't mentioned accomplishments as part of your particular unit, it isn't because they are unappreciated. I've distilled long lists of achievements in order to make two points.

One, we have been making real progress, even though it doesn't always seem like it when you and I leave work each day. In the past year, we've undergone a lot of "discombobulation," as we used to say in Kansas, because of the staff reorganization, the closing of the Bayonne Federal Records Center, and the uncertainties that I know many of you feel about new roles and what may happen next. But change is the price of progress, and it is paying off, as our list of achievements indicates.

The second and last point is this: our plan is a living, breathing document. We've been implementing it at the same time that we have refined and expanded it, and it will need more refinement in the new fiscal year.

This year we've had success in getting funds. We now know that continuing that success will depend on being able to show the President and the Congress that we are meeting measurable goals.

The Government Performance and Results Act requires not only that we develop a strategic plan, but that each year we derive from our strategic plan an annual performance plan that specifies what we will accomplish, not by 2007, but by the end of each particular year.

Also, each year we must submit to the President and the Congress a program performance report that describes the performance achieved against the previous year's goals.

The performance plan will contain targets—measurable objectives for the year that will drive the activities of every NARA unit in Washington, in the libraries, and in the regions. The program performance report will demonstrate in specific terms what we have done.

Therefore, in the 1998 Fiscal Year, I need your help with a critical, additional step. The Government Performance and Results Act says that by Fiscal Year 1999, we must be able to identify, systematically and reliably, our service delivery stet accomplishments. This is good practice, and not just a legal requirement.

Therefore, our expanded plan agrees that in Fiscal Year 1998, we will determine methods and processes for measuring customer service and operating achievements.

In the future, we will need to report our progress much more precisely than I have just done in my 1997 report to you. And development of this agency-wide measurement program will require close coordination among all offices and units.

My next step will be to identify offices that have stewardship for carrying out the various parts of our plan. My commitment to you is to do everything I can, working with the Congress and the Administration as I have been doing, to pursue the additional funding that you need to meet objectives in the Strategic Plan.

I ask, in turn, a commitment from you, to continue to work as one agency. Find internal efficiencies, put the plan into practice, help develop precise performance measures, and join together to produce the measurable achievements I need to continue to make the case for NARA successfully.

We are making progress. We are gathering support. But we can't have one without the other. If we keeping pulling together, we can have both.

I thank you for all you have done, and all the patience you have shown. I hope you see as clearly as I do that our hard work is truly paying off.

I count on you now to work together, to develop and implement the performance measures that the law and good business sense require of us, and through your performance, to help me continue making a strong case that the National Archives and Records Administration is worth supporting.

Thank you very much.