About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks by the Archivist: Sunshine Week 2016 event

McGowan Theater
National Archives Building
Monday, March 14, 2016 at 1:00 p.m.


Who is the Archivist?

David S. Ferriero

David S. Ferriero The Archivist of the United States is the head of our agency, appointed by the President of the United States.

The AOTUS Blog
What's an Archivist?

Good afternoon, and welcome to the National Archives.  I'm David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and it is my pleasure to celebrate Sunshine Week 2016 with you.

Sunshine Week marks the birth week of James Madison, our nation's father "of the Constitution."  Madison spoke eloquently about the power of knowledge, particularly for "people who mean to be their own Governors"

It was not until 1954, however, that a bill was introduced in Congress that gave the public the right of access to government information.  Twelve years after the bill was first introduced, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act into law without a bill signing ceremony or any of the usual pomp and circumstance

This Sunshine Week marks the Freedom of Information Act's 50th anniversary.

I hope you all had a chance to stop by the display case outside of the McGowan Theater on your way in this afternoon to say happy birthday to the FOIA in person. If you did not see the document previously, you can view the document during our first break this afternoon

Let me tell you about where I work.  The National Archives exists to make access happen and good records management is the backbone of open government: NARA works with other agencies to help them manage their records from the time the records are created until they are either properly disposed of or transferred to our ownership.

Our staff work every day to provide access to the federal records that tell the story of our nation's shared history, or the personal history sought by genealogists or veterans.

On his first day in office, President Obama committed his Administration "to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government."  At the National Archives, we have embraced this call to action, and have taken the lead in developing new approaches to open government.

I am proud of our role as open government leader.    

The Open Government National Action Plans reflect this agency's significant and ongoing efforts to strengthen open government.   The latest National Action Plan includes several initiatives to advance open government at the National Archives and across the government including:

  • managing government records;
  • modernizing the implementation of FOIA;
  • streamlining the declassification process;
  • implementing the controlled unclassified information program;
  • developing a machine readable government organization chart; and
  • increasing the impact of open innovation activities.

As part of our agency's Open Government Plans, the National Archives has implemented more than 120 actions to improve transparency, participation, and collaboration since 2010.

Through our plan's flagship initiative, "Innovate to Make Access Happen," we launched a new National Archives Catalog, which furthers our Citizen Archivist crowdsourcing efforts by inviting the public to add tags, comments, and transcriptions to the records of the Federal Government.

This year, the National Archives is a Co-Chair of the Interagency Open Government Working Group, which brings open government advocates from across the government together to share best practices and promote each other's work. These meetings are hosted at the National Archives and are open to our friends in civil society on a quarterly basis.

From now until June, we will be developing our fourth Open Government Plan. We need your ideas and feedback on how we should bring even greater transparency, participation, and collaboration to the way in which we do our work. Please be on the lookout for blog and social media posts where you can post your ideas or email opengov@nara.gov.

Today's event was organized by the Office of Government Information Services. As the FOIA ombudsman's office, OGIS has a natural home in the National Archives.

OGIS is charged with providing mediation services to help resolve disputes between FOIA requesters and federal agencies.  Since its creation in 2009, the office has provided assistance to requesters in all 50 states and in 22 foreign countries.

Its staff have developed a training program to help agency FOIA professionals avoid and resolve disputes with requesters. Six hundred FOIA professional from 58 departments and agencies took this training.
OGIS has a robust FOIA compliance program that provides agencies with detailed and customized recommendations for how to improve the agency's FOIA program. The first two programs assessed by OGIS were components of the National Archives.  They have also released three assessments of components of the Department of Homeland Security.

Dr. James Holzer, The Director of OGIS, chairs the federal FOIA Advisory Committee and members of his staff provide administrative support to the Committee. The Committee brings together experts from inside and outside government to discuss and develop consensus recommendations for how to improve FOIA.

I look forward to reviewing the Committee's first recommendations in the coming months.

I feel confident that OGIS is in its best position yet to create change in the administration of FOIA and be a critical part of how the National Archives makes access happen.

Our speakers today will be talking to you more about recent litigation involving the Freedom of Information Act, and about how technology can and is being used to open government.

Leveraging technology is a key component to the innovation efforts at the National Archives. Later on in the program, Pamela Wright, NARA's Chief Innovation Officer will tell you more about these efforts, including our crowdsourcing efforts with our Citizen Archivist Dashboard, transcription in our National Archives Catalog, engagement with Wikipedia, as well as our new Innovation Hub and our newest pilot, History Hub.

Before we begin today's program, I want to remind you one more time that the Freedom of Information Act signed by LBJ will be available for viewing just outside of the Theater during the first break.

And without any further ado, I will ask James Holzer, Director of the Office of Government Information Services, to come to the stage to introduce the first panel.