About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks at the CoSA-SAA-NAGARA 2018 Plenary

Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, Washington, DC
August 16, 2018

Good morning! It is a pleasure to welcome a record number of archivists to Washington, DC, for the Joint meeting of CoSA, NAGARA, and SAA.  

These joint meetings in DC with their focus on the important work of archivists and records managers are particular highlights for us at NARA. We appreciate the opportunity to exchange experiences, ideas, and good practices with so many of our colleagues at all levels of government in the United States and in other countries, as well as archivists from a wide range of other environments. I also pleased that 24 NARA staff are participating in 15 programs during the conference. 

I remain deeply committed to transparency, the theme of this conference, and archives efforts in providing transparency are our best hopes in combating low public trust in government.  

Transparency also supports active public engagement with government, and NARA is seeing high levels of engagement and interest in what we do.

After all, archives and open government records are one of the pillars of democracy!

I want to spend a few minutes highlighting some of NARA’s recent efforts to increase transparency, not just providing access to high volumes of government records but also a new level of transparency into our own processes.

First, last winter our Office of the Chief Records Officer launched the Unauthorized Disposition webpage, which provides a log of all the cases of unauthorized records disposition opened by NARA this Fiscal Year, along with links to the letters opening and closing the cases, whenever possible.  We established a new email account, UnauthorizedDisposition@nara.gov, where the public can call out attention to possible cases of inappropriate destruction or disposal of Federal government records.

I am sure that you have heard that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE submitted a proposed records schedule to NARA last year. This proposed schedule was posted for public comment in the Federal Register, as all schedules for proposed temporary records are, and NARA received an unprecedented number of comments. In fact, we received a petition in response to a proposed schedule, something that has never happened before. We are currently working with ICE to make changes to the schedule in light of the comments received, which is exactly what the public comment process is for.

The heightened interest in this particular schedule has also given me an opportunity to explain on my blog how records scheduling works, how the public comment process works, and where NARA currently is in this process for the ICE schedule.  Most importantly, I have requested a review of all ICE records.

We’re also exploring better ways of making information about proposed schedules available to the public on an ongoing basis, making public engagement with appraisal and scheduling easier.

Lastly, I’d like to say just a few words about NARA’s release of the Judge Kavanaugh records. The first is simply that these are not open records under the Presidential Records Act, and the way we’re releasing them is governed by the processes specified in the law. In our efforts towards transparency, we have created a new webpage summarizing the Judge Kavanaugh records, linking to the records themselves that can be released to the public and to NARA’s release­­––related correspondence with members of the Senate in our online FOIA reading room. I encourage anyone with a deep interest in how this process works to read these exchanges for the latest and most accurate informaton.

The thing about the Judge Kavanaugh records that is not making it into the press reports but that might interest you, is that these are electronic records being searched and reviewed in the Presidential instance of ERA–NARA’s Electronic Records Archives. Without that system, searching for and then producing these 900,000 or so records would have been impossible for us.

This is a taste of the new digital world that all government archives are entering. NARA’s leadership team will be offering a special focus session on NARA’s own strategic plan on Friday afternoon at 2:00 pm at which the key people leading this charge for us can tell you about how NARA is managing our decisive turn toward the digital.

I hope some of you will attend that session and share your thoughts about how your own institutions are adapting, becoming digital while emphasizing the critical role of archives in providing transparency in the places it’s needed most.

Let me end with a few comments about the “Admonish the Archivist Movement.”  When I became Archivist of the United States, I took an Oath of Office just as every Federal employee in the room in the room. I swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Rule of Law. That is what I have been doing, that is what I am doing, and that is what I will do as long as I am the Archivist of the United States.