About the National Archives

Archivist's Speeches: John W. Carlin (2001)

John W. Carlin
Archivist of the United States

Good Morning.

Several years ago I began the practice of reminding all of us of the work we've accomplished in each fiscal year, because sometimes the progress we've made gets lost in the press of our day-to-day business. Today is the day we celebrate what we've done in FY 2001 and recognize some of your outstanding achievements. And it is also my chance to thank all of you together for the part you have played in carrying out our mission of providing ready access to the essential records of our government.

We would not be successful in this mission without the skills and commitment of each of you. Whether you assist our researchers by pulling records from the stacks . . . or plan programs for the public . . . or process records to prepare them for use by our citizens . . . or let contracts and see that the bills are paid . . . or answer veterans' requests for copies of their military records . . . your job is important. Our success as an organization is directly related to the work that every individual across NARA does every single day, and I want you to know I appreciate your efforts.

As you probably know, this speech comes right before our annual awards ceremony, and I'm very proud of the dedication and professionalism of all our award winners. I'm also very proud of the progress we made this year as an agency.

Our budget for 2001 allowed us to move ahead on key strategic issues this year, and I am happy to tell you that our 2002 budget will give us the additional resources to continue in the same manner. The fact that both Congress and the President have increasingly supported our efforts tells me that they understand what we already know—that our work is vital to the democracy in which we live.

As I said, we made progress on many fronts. We completed an orderly records transition from the Clinton to the Bush Administration, moving Clinton records to Little Rock and helping the new Administration get started setting up its records keeping system. We made big strides in customer service at the records centers. We made countless more records available to the public.

We began in earnest the much-needed renovation of the National Archives Building, and the necessary conservation steps to ensure that our nation's most precious documents—the Charters of Freedom—are preserved for as long as possible. And we moved ahead on our Electronic Records Archives initiatives, bringing us even closer to finding realistic solutions that will allow us to build the Archives of the Future.

We hosted VIPs from this country and abroad, including the national archivist of Spain, who is the current president of our International Council on Archives. While still in office, President Clinton visited his Presidential Materials Project, and Pulitzer prize–winning authors David McCullough and Joseph Ellis participated in our author lecture series leading up to the 225th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

NARA Civil War specialist Mike Musick and Jim Hastings of the Textual Archives Services Division were even invited as special guests of the President and the Cheney family to present the Vice President copies of the Civil War records from one of his great-grandfathers as a 60th birthday gift. Since not that many people are invited to the Vice President's birthday party, I think it's important to note that our archivists have made the "A List" in terms of social invitations.

We welcomed some new faces in key leadership positions all across NARA this year, including a new office head for Regional Records Services, a new Regional Director for the Pacific Region, and a new Budget Director, Director of Preservation, and Director of Museum Programs. Additionally, five new directors took the reins at our Truman, Bush, Ford, Kennedy, and Johnson Presidential Libraries.

Sadly, we also said goodbye to three of our colleagues from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. Ann Jones, Cora Riley, and Rosie Chandler lost their lives as they drove home from an American Federation of Government Employees union training meeting. We honored these dedicated women in a special memorial service and by naming a new Learning Center at the NPRC after them.

This year was also one that forever changed the nation whose records we keep.

The September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have affected each of us in some way, just as they have affected all of our fellow American citizens. In the near future, we will keep the records of this tragic time as a testament to generations to come, but now we all play a part in the making of the history now being recorded.

Just as citizens of this country and our allies around the world have come together in response to these horrific attacks, I have seen all of you band together to address the security and records issues that have now become high priorities for all of us. As security tightened at our facilities across the country, your cooperation and assistance helped to ensure the safety of your colleagues and our patrons, as well as the records we hold in trust for the American people.

Also, I am very proud that here at NARA we are doing everything in our power to assist agencies whose records were destroyed. In New York City and at the Pentagon, NARA staff has offered its assistance to assess the extent of records damage, stabilize damaged records, and reconstruct files if possible.

More specifically, our New York Regional Archives is collaborating with other members of New York City's archival community to provide assistance during this period of recovery and rebuilding. Working together, this group is addressing both the immediate need for disaster assessment and recovery, and the longer-term initiative to document the people, organizations, and activities surrounding the World Trade Center attack. And these efforts have only just begun and are expected to change and grow in the coming months.

The sad truth is that many of the organizations affected by the attack on the World Trade Center not only tragically lost staff but also lost countless irreplaceable documents, such as Social Security records, customs records, and court records.

Organizations that had copies of their vital records stored off-site fared better and in some cases have been able to start rebuilding. Just as recent events have made us all more vigilant and sensitive to personal security, we have also become more aware of the safeguards that are necessary to protect vital records.

Certainly, since September 11, we have all seen first-hand the importance of the jobs that we do. It should be very clear that none of your jobs consists of stereotypical, bureaucratic, paper pushing. Together we protect, care for, and make available the records of our country, and that job is vital to the functioning of our democracy.

Another turning point in our country's history came last November as we went through the democratic process of putting in place new leadership for our nation.

And, NARA played a role in last year's rather unique Presidential election, when the Federal Register became the authoritative voice on Electoral College operations . . . with Michael White of the Federal Register becoming a media star as he made it his mission to explain to the public how we elect a President. There were a few weeks there last November where you could hardly turn on the TV without seeing Mike, and through the efforts of Federal Register personnel, essential evidence guaranteeing the legitimacy of our new President was created, explained, recorded and preserved.

And when it came time for the transfer of Constitutional power from one President to another, the Federal Register published record amounts of material that will provide the historical evidence of two dynamic Administrations.

Five years ago in our Strategic Plan, we identified the need to work more closely with Presidents and their appointees to smooth transitions and to avoid later difficulties by practicing good record keeping from the start. The experiences we've had this past year have reinforced the importance of this strategy, and I am very happy with the progress we made this year in working with the new Administration. We made contacts very early with both campaigns to make sure we could hit the ground running the day after the election.

Of course, like the rest of the country, we didn't anticipate having time to kill between the election and the declaration of a new President. So, in practice, we hit the ground running in mid-December, rather than November 8, but I can assure you this time lapse wasn't due to anything WE did or didn't do—even though the Federal Register did run the Electoral College.

We worked hard to establish communications and working relationships at all appropriate levels of the new Bush Administration, and they welcomed our help. As a result, we have a team made up of staff from the Office of Records Services, the Office of Human Resources and Information Services, and the Presidential Libraries that is essentially providing targeted assistance to the White House on both Federal and Presidential Records.

NARA's part in the Presidential transition was a real team effort. While the Office of Administrative Services supervised the design and preparation of space in Little Rock for the Clinton Project, which the Office of Presidential Libraries opened in October of 2000, the Presidential Materials Staff pulled together the Clinton materials in Washington. The General Counsel's staff provided legal advice to the White House throughout the year regarding what records were to be transferred to NARA by Inauguration Day, and negotiated an important Memorandum of Understanding between NARA and the Administration's legal representatives ensuring that we would have sole legal custody of all the email records of the Clinton-Gore White House.

The Office of Human Resources and Information Services, the Office of Records Services, Presidential Libraries, and the General Counsel worked together with the White House Office of Administration to ensure that the Clinton email records were restructured so that we could preserve and provide access to them. Clearly, this was a huge effort, under great pressure from Congress, the Courts, and the Administration, and I appreciate all of your efforts.

Another major difference in the transition from the Clinton to the Bush Administration was dealing with the proliferation of web sites within the Government during the Clinton Administration. As we all know, web technology took off during this period, and for the first time NARA had the challenge of preserving, as records, the web sites of the Administration and of other Government agencies.

It was a true success story that the Clinton Library Project had a web site that included the Clinton White House site, up and running, on January 20. Never before has a Presidential library project been able to provide researchers material the very day the Administration leaves office.

This work with the transfer of Administrations is all part of the first goal in our Strategic Plan—to improve records management in the Federal Government. Now let me turn to some more specific examples of how we are striving to meet this goal.

In FY 2001, NARA received funding to complete the initial staffing of our Targeted Assistance Initiative so that when we fill all the slots, we will have Targeted Assistance staff in every region. This past year, Targeted Assistance projects greatly helped agencies around the country, and we currently have more than 175 ongoing partnerships. Projects ranged from small but vital jobs capturing permanent policy records at the Department of Housing and Urban Development to a massive undertaking involving the revision of over 3,600 items for the Department of the Army.

And our Targeted Assistance customers appear to be very satisfied. For example, members of the Records Management staff of the Northeast Region have been working with the National Park Service, and the Park Service sent the following feedback: "Thank you for your role in making the assistance program available to us at the park. Clearly this was work we needed to undertake, but would not have without NARA's most excellent assistance."

Training and briefing projects allowed us to reach employees concerned with records management throughout the Government. Our staff visited offices ranging from remote Indian agencies to offices in the heart of Washington, DC, and more than 600 employees participated in training sessions, and hundreds more attended records management briefings.

We have also undertaken a major study of how records are managed in agencies throughout the Federal Government. With contractor support, we used individual interviews, focus groups, and an Internet survey to find out how agency officials and staff viewed records management and what they perceived its role to be in today's modern office. More than 40 Federal agencies participated in the interviews and focus groups, and more than 475 individuals replied to the Internet survey.

Additionally, using a process called Records Systems Analyses, or RSAs, we examined selected business processes in Federal agencies to determine how records are actually being created and managed. In doing so, we collected information critical to NARA's examination of our records management policies and guidance.

The RSA teams, made up of NARA staff from the Office of Records Services and the Regions visited 11 agencies in 24 different locations around the country. They overcame the difficulties of working with new people, often in different locations, to produce a very complex series of reports on a very demanding schedule.

This work done by NARA staff and our contractors is crucial to the review of NARA records management policy being led by Deputy Archivist Lew Bellardo, and will help us decide what our records policies should be in the future.

We also made a lot of progress toward our goal of increasing records access for our citizens.

For example, in the regional archives, the amount of time our facilities were open for researchers, greatly increased over the past fiscal year. And, this year we will roll out new public access computers and assistance technology in all of our regional archives and Presidential libraries to make our holdings more accessible to the public.

In our records centers, we closed out our second year as a fee-for-service operation, and I am happy to report that because of the great job you all are doing, the Records Center Program is a big success.

In FY 2001, we took in over 1.7 million cubic feet of records, and responded to 14 million reference requests to meet the needs of both the general public and Federal agencies.

At the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, especially, we are making substantial improvements in customer service, with the quality of reference responses significantly improved and the backlog on a downward slope.

For example . . .

  • We have established a Customer Service Component that answers emergency cases within 24 hours.
  • We have opened five customer service lines, which are staffed from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. to answer customer inquiries.
  • We are striving to turn around "routine" Separation Document requests in 10 working days, and now we are turning around 39 percent of all Separation Documents in 15 days, and this percentage is rising.
  • And finally, we began developing a web portal to NPRC that will allow Federal agencies and eventually veterans the opportunity to request information from military records "online." NPRC will also be able to access the databases of other agencies, such as the Veteran's Administration, which may allow researchers to get requested information without us ever having to go to the stacks and pull records.

Another key part of meeting our goal of increasing the public's access to records is the development and deployment of the Archival Research Catalog, or ARC. ARC will ensure that anyone, anywhere with an Internet connection can browse descriptions of our holdings in the DC area, the regional archives, and the Presidential libraries.

This past year, ARC development neared completion, and the system made its debut in demos to numerous staff. In addition, several description archivists from around the country participated in pilot training sessions on our new lifecycle data standards and ARC. And once all the ARC system testing is complete later this year, we will begin training staff and rolling out the system unit by unit.

We are also increasing our presence on the World Wide Web. We expanded our electronic services to the public and added a new web portal, www.archives.gov, which was launched to coincide with the 225th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence on July 4. And with the new staff we hired this past year, we are now working on a major redesign of the entire NARA web site.

The Presidential libraries are also working to add new features to their web sites. For example, the web site of the Truman Library now offers a page designed especially for children that includes interactive educational games.

Over the past year, your work ensured that researchers had access to many more records. For example, a new agreement with President Nixon's estate allows for the accelerated release of 1,200 hours of White House tapes, and we released more Oval Office recordings from the Kennedy and Johnson Presidencies. Overall, the libraries released almost 218,000 pages of formerly classified materials. Also, as part of our support to the Interagency Working Group on war criminal records, we opened nearly 3 million pages of records over the past 2 years.

And I'm pleased to report that the Information Security Oversight Office, or ISOO, which is responsible for overseeing on behalf of the White House the security classification and declassification program of every Federal agency doubled its staff this past year with support from Congress.

And in its role as NARA's grant-making organization, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission is seeking new ways to preserve and make accessible important documentary resources. In 2001 the Commission encouraged new efforts to focus on the records of under-documented groups in American society including Native Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, and African Americans.

Last spring the third edition of the Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives was published, and it has quickly become a bestseller. Many NARA staff members contributed to this project by evaluating and verifying descriptions of records, compiling new information, and reviewing text.

And your efforts will ensure that researchers and genealogists will continue to have access to even more records in the near future. For example, this year we completed duplication of the 1930 census microfilm rolls in preparation for the opening of the 1930 census records this coming April.

Thanks to your work, the census catalog will be available for the first time both as a print publication and as an online searchable database. And the Research Support Staff at Archives I are preparing finding aids. In addition, the cartographic staff is filming the census enumeration district maps, the Information Technology Staff has developed the program for the catalog, and volunteers and staff from Pittsfield are proofing the roll lists. Thanks to you—we will be ready come April 2002.

At the Presidential libraries, through our Remote Archives Capture project we scan records eligible for declassification so that the declassification work can be completed more efficiently. This past year we opened records at the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson libraries that were declassified as part of this project, and we completed scanning at the Ford Library and began scanning at the Carter Library.

We also took custody of the records of the Clinton Administration this year, which will be the largest collection of Presidential materials that we administer. In fact, the holdings of the Clinton Presidential Materials project will total about 67,000 cubic feet. Recently the final legal hurdle dealing with the Clinton Library site was cleared, and the Clinton Presidential Library Foundation is breaking ground today on the library.

We began staffing the Clinton Project this past year, and our new budget for 2002 gives us funds to hire the rest of the staff without having to take positions from other parts of NARA. This has been a rather rare happening when it comes to Presidential Libraries, so I'm very happy that we have this kind of support from Congress and the Administration.

Consistent with our Strategic Plan to bring our holdings to more people, we recently launched a major traveling road show of our "American Originals" exhibit, which will take some of our most important historical documents around the nation. "American Originals," will tour the country for 3 years, stopping in eight cities, and includes original documents that have helped chart the course of American history including the Emancipation Proclamation, the voting records of the 1787 Constitutional Convention, the Louisiana Purchase treaty, and President John F. Kennedy's handwritten draft of his inaugural address.

I am especially pleased that the documents included in the traveling exhibit were pulled not only from Washington but also from the regional archives and the Presidential libraries. The exhibit opened at the New York Public Library in October and will be there until January.

Throughout the country, the Presidential libraries also put our holdings on display through new exhibits designed to educate, inform, and entertain the public. For example, in April, shortly after our reconnaissance plane was seized by the Chinese military, the Hoover Library opened an exhibit titled "The Eagle and the Dragon: U.S. Relations with China." This exhibit was not only well-timed but helped visitors from all over the country better understand our relationship with China.

Also this year, the John F. Kennedy Library launched what is possibly the most successful Presidential Library exhibition ever. "Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years" opened to rave reviews last spring at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art and drew nearly 560,000 visitors. The Ford Library also opened a very well-received exhibit which examined the evolution of the role of the First Lady as wife, mother, and political adviser.

As for progress in our goal of meeting our storage and preservation needs, we also made significant strides in this area.

As I just mentioned, and I know I don't need to remind those of you working at Archives I amid all the noise and dust, the National Archives Building is currently undergoing a major renovation. This past year, we completed the final design for the renovation and work on several pre-construction contracts. The major construction contract for the renovation was awarded this past April, and we are on schedule to complete the renovation in 2004.

While renovating the National Archives Building, we are also re-encasing the Charters of Freedom. By the end of FY 2001, we had built seven of the nine new encasements, and the final two encasements will be delivered shortly by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Our conservators are now working with the documents so that our grandchildren and their grandchildren will also be able to see these national treasures.

I am also pleased to tell you that our budget for FY 2002 includes $28.5 million dollars to build a new Southeast Regional Archives facility in Morrow Georgia, just outside of Atlanta. This new facility will replace our current one, which is a World War II depot that does not meet building code standards and puts the long-term preservation of the records housed there at risk.

The new Southeast Regional Archives will be co-located with the Georgia State Archives next to the campus of Clayton State College and University and represents the first partnership of a State and Federal archives. As many of you know, this effort has been many years in the making, and the success is the result of a lot of work and commitment by a number of you.

Also, in order to better preserve the records of our veterans, we established a preservation program for at-risk military records housed in St. Louis. Thanks to the great work of the new staff we added specifically for this program, we are already ahead of schedule on the first preservation project, which entails the duplication of more than 14,000 reels of microfilm containing Air Force flight records.

As I've highlighted for you, all of the initiatives I've talked about in the last few minutes fall under one of the goals of our Strategic Plan. Now, I want to talk briefly about an initiative that really covers ALL of our strategic goals—our Electronic Records Archives, or ERA, program.

As you are probably aware, we are working to build an "archives of the future" that will preserve our government's rapidly growing number of electronic records and provide access to these documents for anyone, anywhere, anytime.

We have come a long way in just a short time. Just a few years ago, we told our partners at the San Diego Supercomputer Center that we needed the ability to process millions of records as quickly as possible. In 1999, they succeeded in bringing in a million email messages from the Internet, processing them into a preservable format, and bringing them back in a different format. This all took less than 2 days on a workstation. Now they can do 10 million records in a day and are confident they will soon be able to do 100 million records a day.

And this year, our efforts broke out of the research lab and into practical pilot and prototype projects. We have stepped up activity with our partners at research labs and universities, and we have taken some of our early research findings and turned them into engineering solutions that work.

For example, the folks at the San Diego Supercomputer Center are now testing ways to preserve the newest kind of public records—web sites—and are using the Roosevelt Library's web site as a test to develop ways to preserve the content, appearance, and organization of department and agency sites on the Internet.

They have also recognized the necessity of applying archival and records management knowledge to manage, preserve, and provide access to electronic records and they are finding ways to embed that knowledge in systems built to process records. In the coming year, we expect to demonstrate reliable transmission and preservation of large volumes of electronic records in a virtual archives that is distributed across the Internet.

With our partners at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, we are working on a project at the George Bush Library that will allow quicker and more efficient processing of Presidential records that are preserved on computer hard drives. The software program being developed would allow automatic sorting of the actual Presidential records from the scores of different kinds of files found on the hard drives. The software will also help us to find information that needs to be protected for reasons such as national security and privacy.

Full deployment of the ERA will take several years, and some key aspects of it will depend on technologies that have not made it out of the laboratory and into the marketplace. But as tools for archivists emerge from these pilot projects and research applications, they will be put to use right away at NARA and elsewhere.

We are also actively working with archivists in state governments and universities and with other national archives both to increase the knowledge that is applied in the research activities, and to broaden the benefits of the research results and the base of support for the solutions that emerge.

Closely related to ERA, is our work with the Federal e-government initiative. Thanks to our sustained efforts, our colleagues in the Executive Office of the President, and other agencies, see electronic records management as one of the critical infrastructure components necessary to support e-government. NARA has been named by the Administration as the lead in one of 22 pilot projects within the Federal Government. And that lead is on an initiative that will establish government-wide procedures and tools for assessing, establishing and implementing an eXtensible Markup Language-based approach to electronic records management.

The goal of this project is to establish a registry which will enable agencies with common business needs to share information on organizing records. This initiative is also a step toward ERA and the critical component of front end records lifecycle control necessary for both records management and archival preservation.

Another area that touches each part of our Strategic Plan and is laid out in Goal Four are the new programs and initiatives we have implemented to benefit our staff. Simply put, we can't meet ANY of our strategic goals without a well-trained, well-equipped, and motivated staff, and we continue to take steps to make sure this is exactly what we have at NARA facilities across the country.

This past year we began rewarding employees with On-the-Spot-Awards and Time Off awards in recognition of outstanding work. We continued the Transit Subsidy Program, which has proven to be very popular, and we currently are piloting a flexiplace program that allows employees to work from home or an alternate worksite.

For those individuals with disabilities, both staff and researchers, we have improved accessibility to information technology through use of adaptive aids. We have also increased the number of training and professional development opportunities available for staff members. You are all doing a great job now, and we want to equip you with new skills to meet the new challenges of the future.

As I bring this to a close, I want to talk for a moment about the future, and about the role you play in it.

As I mentioned earlier, our National Archives Building is currently in the midst of renovation and the Exhibit Hall is closed to the public. I want to note that before we removed the Charters of Freedom from public view on July 4, we threw one heck of a party in honor of the 225th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. In order to send the Charters off in style, we took some risks and added some new, innovative ideas to our traditional Fourth of July program, and the result was a huge success.

Everyone who played a part in this celebration should be especially proud.

From the Public Programs Staff, who coordinated the events of the day as well as special programs leading up to July 4 . . .

To the Congressional and Public Affairs Staff and the Development Staff, who took great care of our invited special guests and expertly managed dozens of press members . . .

To the Office of Administrative Services, who oversaw security and facilities issues for the day . . .

To all the individuals who made this day such a success, I want to say thank you for a job well done.

We figured that lots of people would want to see the Charters before they went off display until 2003, but we had no idea that more than 4,000 people from all over the U.S would come and stand in the heat and the rain to get a glimpse of these documents that we are charged with protecting. Many of you were there that day and saw the crowds camped out on our steps when we opened and throughout the day.

As I talked to some of our visitors in line, the majority of them from out of town, it was clear that they had made a stop at the National Archives a high priority on their trip to Washington, DC. In a city where there are plenty of things to do, especially on July 4, these people had no reservations about standing in line for 4 to 5 hours to see the Charters of Freedom, and they had traveled hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles to do so.

Talking to these visitors reinforced for me once again just how important the job we do is. For we are not just doing a day-to-day job here at NARA—we are ensuring the continued functioning of our country's democracy. The events of the past few months have shown us that our nation is strong and our people are united. The records we keep illustrate that too, just as the jobs you do everyday show our fellow Americans that the men and women who serve at the National Archives and Records Administration are proud of our mission to ensure ready access to the records of our government.

Our work has gotten some well-deserved attention and praise this past year from our stakeholders and from the public. But much of the day-in, day-out work that you do often doesn't get that same sort of acknowledgment, and I am well aware of the great effort that goes into operating this agency.

  • Security services, facility operations, maintenance and repair, and all the other work it takes to maintain our facilities . . .
  • Personnel, information technology, procurement, accounting, and all our other financial requirements . . .
  • Pulling and refiling records in our archives and records centers to meet customers' needs . . .
  • Appraising, preserving, and processing records of all kinds . . .

We've made significant progress with special initiatives, but each of you have also made significant contributions in your ongoing work every day—contributions without which NARA could not function, let alone win praise. For this I thank each and every one of you. And I ask you to keep up the great work as we head into 2002!

Thank you!