About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks at Sunshine Week Event

McGowan Theater, National Archives Building, Washington, DC
March 11, 2019 

Good afternoon and welcome to “My House”!

It is nice o have you with us. Whether you are physically in the building or watching us virtually.

Sunshine Week is a national initiative created by the American Society of News Editors to bring attention to the importance of access to public records in our democracy.

And I can’t think of a better place to be celebrating Sunshine Week than here at the National Archives. Because we not only contribute, but serve, as a leader in “open government.”

As our nation’s record keeper, our holdings span our great nation’s history and capture its experiences and soul. Among the 15 billion textual records and 43 million still pictures—many already online with more available digitally every day—are the Oaths of Allegiance signed by George Washington and his troops at Valley Forge, the Emancipation Proclamation, records pertaining to American Prisoners of War and Missing in Action from the Vietnam War Era, as well as the Tweets that are being created by the White House as I am speaking right now. And of course, our cherished Charters of Freedom, the founding documents of the United States—the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights—displayed upstairs in the Rotunda. 

Our employees work hard at making access happen during Sunshine Week—as well as the other 51 weeks of the year. “Make Access Happen” in fact is one of NARA’s four strategic goals and the topic of much of what will be discussed this afternoon. We have an interesting—and thought-provoking—program for you today. And I am particularly pleased to welcome representatives from all three branches of our government.

Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has graciously agreed to join me in a conversation—and you all are invited to eavesdrop. Senators John Cornyn of Texas and Patrick Leahy of Vermont live on opposite sides of the political fence, but, like good neighbors, come together every now and then. Despite their political differences, they both champion FOIA and have worked across the aisle to improve the statute and FOIA administration. Senator Cornyn will join us momentarily, and Senator Leahy will join us later this afternoon.

Today’s program has been organized by NARA’s Office of Government Information Services—the Freedom of Information Act Ombudsman. And later this year, OGIS will be celebrating its 10th anniversary; in the last decade, the Office has done much to help improve the administration of FOIA by assisting requesters in more than 15,000 cases, collaborating with agencies to comply with FOIA, and recommending improvements to the administration of FOIA. I am particularly pleased to welcome back OGIS’s first Director, Miriam Nisbet, who will join OGIS’s current Director, Alina Semo, and representatives from the legislative and judicial branches for a look at the Ombudsman—past, present, and future.

We will also be looking into the future of electronic record keeping with our Chief Records Officer, Laurence Brewer, and a panel of experts who will share their insights into Records Management, which is at the heart of what we do here at the National Archives. We are particularly proud of our work at modernizing records management guidance. Proper records management is vital to both the success of our mission to provide public access to our holdings and to the success of agencies in fulfilling their duties under the Freedom of Information Act.

A few words now about Senator John Cornyn of Texas. Before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 2002, Senator Cornyn had a long and distinguished career as a judge—and champion of public records. He served as a Texas district judge, an associate justice of the Texas Supreme Court and as Texas Attorney General. During his three years as Texas Attorney General, the office re-launched open records enforcement after a period of dormancy and established a toll-free open records hotline. It also issued more than 20,000 informal letters in response to questions from Texas government officials and citizens. Among information he ruled must be released to the public: cost reports submitted to the Texas Department of Human Services by nursing facilities with Medicaid contracts and a computer-generated map of the port of Corpus Christi.

Since his election to the U.S. Senate, Senator Cornyn co-sponsored with Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, FOIA amendments that in 2007 presented a contrast to the adversarial process of litigation by introducing dispute resolution to the FOIA process. The Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National (OPEN) Government Act of 2007 created OGIS which opened its doors here at the National Archives in 2009. Senators Cornyn and Leahy joined forces again to co-sponsor the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, which firmly wove dispute resolution into the fabric of the FOIA process, creating multiple opportunities for requesters to seek assistance from both agency FOIA professionals and OGIS.

So with that, please join me in welcoming Senator John Cornyn to the podium.