About the National Archives

Archivist's Speeches: John W. Carlin (2000)

Archivist of the United States


Good morning, and thanks for coming to hear some things I very much want to say. And first and foremost is this: together, we've given NARA one of its best years ever. And what is particularly exciting to me is that our achievements come from your work all across the agency.

We started FY 2000 with budget increases, and we ended it with the potential for another budget increase for FY 2001—a multi-million-dollar increase that will keep our momentum going toward meeting the goals of our Strategic Plan.

We began FY 2000 by announcing research that encouraged us to think we could build a real Electronic Records Archives—and now, with the help of major partners, we're building it.

Last October, we launched our reimbursable Records Center Program, taking a big risk on whether we could compete for agency business—and at year's end we're competing successfully.

And early in the year we began renovating Archives One and re-encasing the Charters of Freedom, and in FY 2001 we have reason to believe we'll make significant progress on both of these major projects.

But these are just highlights from a year that's been full of meaningful events—events large and small that affect you, or that you have affected, in every NARA unit and facility nationwide. While we updated our Strategic Plan this year, we also made major gains in our effort to implement it. So let's take a look at what we accomplished in Fiscal Year 2000 under the Plan's four major goals of improving records management, expanding access, meeting preservation and storage needs, and building our internal capacity to implement the Plan.

Of all the great things we did this past year, our progress toward an Electronic Records Archives is of special importance because it is crucial for our future ability to achieve all of our major goals. Last year, after a prototype demonstrated the feasibility of an Electronic Records Archives, we joined with technology and financial partners to start building it. This ERA promises to be able to preserve any kind of electronic record in a format independent of any specific hardware or software. And it will enable customers to find the electronic records they want, in formats suited to their needs, at any point in the future.

This is clearly important, and not just for us. The entire Federal Government—indeed, today's information society at large—has a stake in this success. An ERA will make greater quantities of information available, quickly and for as long as needed, to every office, library, school, and home in America with an Internet connection. The ERA will give increased reality to e-Government. And the technology promises to be useful to many kinds of archives, libraries, agencies, and businesses, regardless of size. In fact, our National Historical Publications and Records Commission has made a grant to foster such "scalability."

Now let me turn more specifically to the first goal in our Strategic Plan—to improve records management in the Federal Government.

In FY 2000 we added 17 senior records analysts to our records management program to extend Targeted Assistance to Federal agencies throughout the country. Combined with the 12 positions we started with in FY 1999 and the 10 more we hope we'll be adding in FY 2001, we'll have added a solid base of 39 Targeted Assistance staff members agency-wide. And the agencies we've helped have already responded with glowing praise, such as we heard from a Southwest Region administrator who said, "Your Targeted Assistance Program definitely hit the mark," and from a Northeast Region administrator who wrote, "The 'hands on' help provided by the Targeted Assistance Program was exactly what we needed." And I was especially pleased to receive a letter from an official in an agency's headquarters saying of Targeted Assistance, "All NARA personnel have demonstrated pure professionalism and a commitment to doing a good job!"

Also, we have undertaken a major study of how records are managed in the Federal Government, the first step toward significantly improving the way we schedule records. And we completed a major review of records in the Washington National Records Center, which resulted in requests to Federal agencies to transfer almost 214,000 cubic feet of permanent records to the National Archives.

Other records-management achievements included work by our Modern Records staff to cut by approximately 90 percent the appraisal backlog of records-disposition schedules more than one year old and completion of a comprehensive re-evaluation of records from Navy research-and-development projects. Our Fast Track program developed products to help agencies with electronic records. And we demonstrated that we could transfer complete electronic records, via File Transfer Protocol, from the originating Federal agency to NARA. After endorsing a standard for electronic records management that we helped the Department of Defense develop, we also endorsed a DoD process for evaluating the ability of software products to meet that standard. Clearly, in these ways and others, we made substantial progress in helping agencies manage records better, both in electronic and traditional formats.

We also made much progress toward our goal of increasing records access.

For example, we added 17 new staff positions to our research rooms nationwide to better meet the needs of our customers. And in the regions we were able to expand hours of service, thanks to these staff additions, to the work of staff who developed our Extend Hours Program, and to volunteers—those wonderful and talented people who again last year did so much for this agency in so many different ways.

In our Archives One and Archives Two research rooms, we also found ways this past year to provide better service. These included automating our pull-and-refile tracking system at Archives Two, consolidating our finding aids in researcher-assistance areas, hiring more reference specialists to provide research-room assistance, describing more records in automated formats, and opening a new publications shop and two Customer Service Centers. Researchers, understandably, have praised these improvements, which have enabled us to not only meet customer service goals, but do so in spite of heavier demands.

At the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis we continued developing and implementing our new processes for providing efficient service on requests for veterans' records. And as more core teams come on line throughout FY 2001, we expect the progress to accelerate.

Work on two major records systems in FY 2000 will also lead to improved customer service in future years. Our Archival Research Catalog, an online database for descriptions of our nationwide holdings, has advanced from the design phase to the testing phase last year and will be operational this year. And with the input of staff throughout the agency, the Lifecycle Coordination Staff completed a guide to the data standards for populating ARC, which replaces the old DE 800. In addition, we developed a prototype system for providing online access to electronic databases, which will work in coordination with ARC and ERA. This system, Access to Archival Databases, offers exciting possibilities for researchers to search for and view online specific electronic records.

We also ensured that researchers had access to many more records in FY 2000. We released more Nixon materials to the public, declassified Vietnam War-era records at the Ford Library, opened more Eisenhower dictabelt recordings, and as an agency declassified more pages than any other Federal agency but one. In particular, as part of our support to the Nazi War Criminal Records Interagency Working Group, we opened thousands of records, including 400,000 pages of World War Two Office of Strategic Services records. And although our Information Security Oversight Office noted in its annual report to the President that NARA fell off in the number of pages declassified, we increased the amount of classification-review work we did to ensure no atomic energy data was inadvertently released.

And through your work last year, researchers will continue to have access to more records in years to come. We've duplicated more than 60 percent of the 1930 census microfilm rolls that need to be ready for reference service in April 2002. And we accelerated our preparations for processing the Clinton Administration's records, which we'll receive when the President's second term ends in January.

Additionally, throughout the country, we brought our holdings to more people through new exhibits that delighted and educated the public. These included the Kennedy Library's exhibit on President Kennedy's love of the sea, the Bush Library's exhibit on the White House Press Office, the Carter Library's exhibit on First Families, the Hoover Library's Christmas tree exhibit, and a bunker exhibit built by our Central Plains Region as part of the 50th anniversary of the Korean War. Staff at Laguna Niguel and San Bruno provided material for a major exhibit on Chinese-American history. And from Archives One, our critically acclaimed photo exhibit, "Picturing the Century," is traveling the nation and overseas. We also sponsored several special programs, including a Korean War conference in our Central Plains Region, a Vietnam War conference at the Ford Library, a Southwest Symposium in our Southwest Region, one on Civil War medicine in our Great Lakes Region, and a symposium on the American Presidency at the Johnson Library.

Some of you this past year made special access achievements in addition to your normal work load. For example, without an increase in workers, our Federal Register staff has kept up with record production levels of its publications while simultaneously expanding use of electronic technologies. In consequence, customers now have online access to new publications, such as the e-CFR, updated online daily. We now electronically receive, edit, and compile material for the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, and have signed a contract that will expand the range of online Federal Register services offered to Federal agencies and the public.

As for progress on our goal of meeting our storage and preservation needs, we made significant strides despite some serious concerns.

Highlighting this year was the transition to a fully reimbursable records center program. So far, 135 agencies and their components are our customers in our records centers from Suitland to Seattle. Thanks to your tireless efforts to pull IRS tax returns, service U.S. Court records, search for veterans' records, and in general provide high quality customer service, our program is a success. And our program improvements, such as making CIPS available online to Federal agencies so they can request their records over the Internet, help keep us competitive.

This was also the year in which our Southeast and Southwest regions barely escaped disasters: a tornado in Fort Worth, and a fire in East Point, Georgia. Small fires also plagued the Washington National Records Center, where we owe much to the success of our fire-suppression systems, and to the diligence of our staff in salvaging the relatively few records that were affected. And our new regulations on the storage of Federal records will ensure that all Federal records are equally protected, whether they are in a Government or a commercial building.

Also, in consultation with the Union, we put together a plan and started implementation to strengthen security at Archives One and Archives Two, which will enhance employees' and customers' personal safety and help meet Government concerns about terrorism. During this year, we'll look at security in the regions, and in the following year, we'll look at the libraries.

And other important steps were taken as well. After raising millions of dollars, the Truman Library broke ground for a much-needed renovation and expansion. We continued planning and negotiating for new facilities for our staff and operations in Atlanta and Anchorage. Our civilian personnel records facility in St. Louis got some much-needed facelifting. And you who work at Archives One began enduring the dust and noise of a major renovation there that will pay off in better, safer, more convenient, and accessible quarters for both staff and customers.

While renovating Archives One, we're also re-encasing the Charters of Freedom. In FY 2000 we designed and built two prototype encasements for the Charters, and conservators in our Document Conservation Lab successfully removed two of the seven Charters pages from their deteriorating encasements, cleaned and repaired the two documents, and placed them in new encasements. Then we unveiled the first encasement to the public as part of a series of successful events celebrating Constitution Week. And a new exhibit in the Rotunda and a Charters web page now offer the public further information about the Charters and our work to make them safe for continued display.

We also established a preservation program for the veterans' records we house in St. Louis, where we are adding staff for the program, and are ahead of schedule on the first preservation project -- the duplication of more than 14,000 reels of microfilm containing Air Force flight records. And in the Washington area, we moved 23,000 cubic feet of acetate-based motion pictures, aerial film, microfilms, and still photos into cold storage, which could extend their useful life by as much as 400 years.

I am pleased as well with the progress we made toward our fourth goal—building our internal capacity to carry out our Strategic Plan.

First of all—a great relief—our intensive effort to keep Y2K "bugs" from causing a computer-systems crash at the new century's start succeeded. And in the process we upgraded many of your computers. Our improvements last year also included installing new software for procurement and order-fulfillment, and we've acquired new software for property management. And not least important, the special records-management campaign most of you helped with last winter—the Great NARA E-Files Sort-Out—improved how we manage electronic files on our desktops.

To increase opportunities for staff development, we created and began offering core courses for NARA careers. And we extended diversity training for NARA staff. Our Presidential Library Conference Series provided professional development for museum registrars and web editors. And through our General Counsel's office and our Equal Employment Opportunity Office, we've provided another kind of help to staff through RESOLVE, our alternative dispute resolution program.

Not the least of the objectives we met was securing the legislative reauthorization of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. This will enable NHPRC to continue as NARA's partner with the states and others outside the Federal Government who also are trying to preserve and provide access to records of importance to our country.

In all these ways and more, we're closer to our goals than we were at this time last year. But I want to say other things now about the year just past. For one thing, I want to recognize that you did laudable things even beyond your jobs!

Some of you helped make a success again of National History Day. Others brought in cash-register receipts in a program for schools to get computers. Nixon Materials staff members provided school supplies for immigrant children. Lots of you helped us surpass goals for blood drives and the Combined Federal Campaign. In fact, Debbie Carter got the Bush Library staff to contribute so generously that the Brazos Valley United Way made her its Combined-Federal-Campaign Volunteer of the Year. And Don Norton, of the Ford Museum, was honored for rescuing a woman from drowning in a river! That's not a customary NARA service, but I certainly salute him and colleagues of his who helped.

This has been a year of new leadership for many of you. In our Inspector General's office, our Equal Employment Opportunity Office, our Denver, Philadelphia, and St. Louis operations, and seven of our ten Presidential libraries, directors retired, took other jobs, or announced they would do so. We've lost very valuable veterans. But we've also recruited superb successors.

This past year we received exceptional attention from notable dignitaries. We had visits from the national archivists of Canada, France, and Japan. We hosted members of the Senate at a dinner, and members of the House of Representatives at a reception, when we opened our "Treasures of Congress" exhibit at Archives One. President Clinton made a personal appearance at the Roosevelt Library. And in front of the national press, Vice President Gore showed a high-school student how to retrieve a popular Elvis photo from our web site.

We had some fun as well. From the National Archives in the east to the Reagan library in the west, you staged some great Fourth-of-July celebrations. And I hear that, as part of raising money for a Quality of Life Committee, Dave Kuehl's Dayton staff drenched him in a dunk tank!

A lot of awards came your way this past year as well, to which I offer congratulations. To name but a few, Northeast Region staff members received "Excellence in Government" awards. Our Lee's Summit staff won Government awards for the efficient use of energy. The Roosevelt Library received an award for improving access to people with disabilities. Dennis Medina at the Eisenhower Library won an "Award for Excellence" in museum work from the Mountain Plains Museum Association. And Lee Ann Potter at Archives Two got the "Year 2000 Outstanding History Educator" award from National History Day and the History Channel.

Also we had beginnings and anniversaries. In Washington, we started a Recreation Association. The National Archives Assembly celebrated its 20th anniversary. And as a whole we observed the 15th anniversary of NARA's independence from GSA.

However, the full promise of our independence has yet to be fulfilled. We've had a year of great achievement, but clear challenges remain in the current year and beyond. For we must now go on and actually build the Electronic Records Archives. We must now complete construction of our Archival Research Catalog and begin the hard work of populating it. We must do the data-gathering and analysis required for understanding and improving the way records are managed in the Federal Government. We must make our new processes actually work in St. Louis to reduce the veterans' backlog. We must complete the renovation of Archives One and the re-encasement of the Charters, and find ways to provide more environmentally appropriate space wherever needed in our regional archives. We must, as well, strengthen the competitiveness of our records center services and complete the redesign of our already popular web site to extend our services to millions who have had limited knowledge of us or limited access to our facilities.

It is fair to say much remains to be done. But I hope you take pride and pleasure, as I do, in all that we have done toward meeting the goals of our Strategic Plan, while at the same time recognizing we're still only part way.

That is why it is so critical at the beginning of this new fiscal year to find ourselves with the potential for the resources we need to go further. Although our appropriations for FY 2001 are not final, and we can take nothing for granted, to this point we have received the support of the President and the Congress, both Republican and Democrat alike, for everything we requested, for which I am most grateful.

Why does it matter so much that again this year—the third in a row under our Plan—we're in the position to receive funding increases for so many activities? Why is the progress you've made so important that I've spent most of this address giving examples of it? Why am I sorry that, because of time, I've had to leave out so many things you've done that deserve notice? I repeat: why do all these things matter?

Because the records we safeguard are records our people need—the public, the press, the Congress, the courts, the agencies themselves. Because State Department cables and Energy Department assessments and Nixon tapes are essential for understanding actions of officials and holding them accountable. Because the naturalization papers, veterans' service records, and laws and regulations we make accessible are records people use to document their identities, claim their entitlements, assert their rights, and conduct their businesses. Because the records we are preserving in cold storage and building an ERA to contain are records without which our historical experience as a nation has little chance of being accurately understood.

You are not just doing a daily job. You are doing something essential for the functioning of our country's democracy. A society whose records are closed cannot be open. A people who cannot document their rights cannot exercise them. A nation without access to its history cannot analyze itself. And a government whose records are lost cannot accountably govern.

When you go back to work today, please think about that. It will explain to you why I am grateful for what you have been achieving, particularly in this past year, when we have achieved so much. And it will explain why we can all feel good about our work at NARA, and about pushing on, with all of our many tasks, to move forward even further tomorrow.

Thank you.