About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for 2nd Annual McGowan Forum on Ethics in Leadership: The Challenge of Big Data

Good evening, and welcome to the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives, whether you’re here in the theater or joining us through YouTube. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and I’m pleased you could join us for the Second Annual McGowan Forum on Ethics in Leadership, to examine the topic “The Challenge of Big Data.”

Before we begin our discussion, I’d like to tell you about an upcoming program in the McGowan Theater and our new exhibit.

On Tuesday, November 7, at noon, retired Lieutenant General Daniel P. Bolger will tell us about his book, Our Year of War: Two Brothers, Vietnam, and a Nation Divided. One brother supported the war, the other detested it, but they fought it together. Joining General Bolger will be those brothers: Chuck and Tom Hagel.

We will launch our next exhibit “Remembering Vietnam” on November 10, Veterans Day, in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery. This exhibit is a media-rich exploration of the Vietnam War, featuring interviews with American and Vietnamese veterans and civilians with first-hand experience of the war’s events as well as historic analysis. It is a fascinating collection of newly discovered and iconic original documents, images, film footage, and artifacts that illuminate 12 critical episodes in the war that divided the peoples of both the United States and Vietnam.

Now I would like to take a moment to ask all Vietnam veterans or any United States veterans who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces at any time during the period of November 1, 1955, to May 15, 1975, to stand and be recognized. 


Veterans, as you exit the McGowan Theater after tonight’s program, National Archives Foundation staff will present each of you with the Vietnam Veteran Lapel Pin. On the back of the pin is embossed “A Grateful Nation Thanks and Honors You.” The United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration is a national initiative, and the lapel pin is the nation’s lasting memento of thanks. 

To learn more about our public programs and exhibits, consult our monthly Calendar of Events online at Archives.gov. Check our website or sign up to get email updates. You’ll also find information about other National Archives programs and activities.

Another way to get more involved with the National Archives is to become a member of the National Archives Foundation. The Foundation supports the work of the agency, especially its education and outreach programs. Pick up your application for membership in the lobby or become a member online at archivesfoundation.org.

For the past decade, the National Archives has hosted two annual McGowan Forums—on Women in Leadership, and on Communications—in honor of MCI Communications founder William McGowan. In light of the changing landscape of our nation, the Archives has recently redirected the annual spring McGowan Forum to focus on Ethics. For our second Forum on Ethics, we are examining “The Challenge of Big Data.”

Here at the National Archives, we’ve faced data challenges from our earliest days.

When we opened our doors more than 80 years ago, staff were faced with the enormous task of taking in and making sense of a cascade of paper records from federal agencies. Over the decades since then, we’ve continued to receive paper documents, but we’ve also taken in a tremendous volume of electronic records.

We now hold more than 20 billion electronic records—hundreds of terabytes of information—and the numbers continue to grow. These records provide invaluable insight into the work of the U.S. government. You can find detailed statistics compiled during studies of education programs, mortgage data compiled by the Federal Housing Administration, investment data collected by the Securities and Exchange Commission, and so much more.

We, too, must continue to find the right balance of protecting privacy and sensitive information while making the rest of these records as broadly available as possible. I look forward to hearing our panelists examine the challenge of Big Data and how to meet it.

Tonight’s program is presented with the generous support of the National Archives Foundation and the William G. McGowan Charitable Fund. And we thank them both for their continued support of our programs over the years. Now it’s my pleasure to introduce A’Lelia Bundles, chair of National Archives Foundation.

A’Lelia is completing six years as chair and 12 years on the board of directors for the Foundation. She’s brought her passion and skills as a journalist and author to the cause of raising awareness of our nation’s historical legacy. Thank you, A’Lelia, for your service, dedication, and enthusiasm on behalf of the National Archives.