Legislative Branch

Guide to House Records: Chapter 23 Disposition of Executive Papers

Chapter 23. Records of the Joint Committees of Congress 1789-1968 (Record Group 128)

Table of Contents

Records of the Joint Committees of Congress 1789-1989 (Record Group 128) from Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States, 1789-1988

Joint Committee on the Disposition of Useless Papers (1889-1935)
Joint Committee on Disposition of Executive Papers (1935-70)

JC.046 In March 1887, the Senate established a select committee to examine and analyze the methods and work of the executive Departments and determine the causes of alleged delays in transacting the public business. The committee proceeded by addressing letters of inquiry to the heads of the Departments. The select committee submitted its report on March 8, 1888 (S. Rept. 507, 50th Cong., 1st sess., Serial 2521), including the responses from the Departments. The report noted that, during the course of the committee's investigation in the various Departments, "it became manifest that there were large masses of files of papers, which have been accumulating for a long series of years and now occupy much room." The committee noted that many of the papers were not used for current business and had neither permanent value nor historical interest. Further investigation revealed that statutes authorizing disposal of the unneeded, nonpermanent papers existed only for the post office and the office of the auditor for the Post Office Department. Accordingly, the committee proposed legislation to provide a system of disposition of such papers throughout the Federal Departments.

JC.047 On February 16, 1889, an act was approved to authorize and provide for the disposition of useless papers in the executive departments (25 Stat. 672). Under its provisions, heads of Governmental Departments that had an "accumulation of files of papers, which are not needed or useful in the transaction of the current business . . . and have no permanent value or historical interest" were instructed to send a report to Congress regarding the papers. When Congress received the report, a joint committee would be appointed to consider and report on it.

JC.048 The records consist primarily of transmittal letters to Congress accompanied by lists of records proposed for destruction. The earliest example is the letter of September 11, 1893, from the Postmaster General asking for the appointment of a joint committee to authorize disposal of records of the Post Office that were no longer useful (S.C. 53). Changes in the procedures are reflected in the documents. The early transmittal letters came from the heads of the Departments that created or received the papers. At first, the disposition recommendations were solely the responsibility of those Departments. Executive Order 1499 of March 16, 1912, however, required that lists had to be submitted to the Librarian of Congress and evaluated for historical interest before being referred to Congress. This process is reflected in the transmittal letters. Later, in accordance with 1934 amendments, the newly established National Archives, rather than the Library of Congress, assumed the review responsibility. Beginning in 1936, the actual transmittal came from the Archivist of the United States.

JC.049 Also among the records are various committee reports regarding disposition of the records appearing on the lists, as well as the first annual report of the National Archives (for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1935) and the transcript and minutes of the first meeting (February 10, 1936) of the National Archives Council (S.C. 74).

This Web version is updated from time to time to include records processed since 1989.


1 The name changed on April 9, 1935.

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Bibliographic note: Web version based on Guide to the Records of the United States House of Representatives at the National Archives, 1789-1989: Bicentennial Edition (Doct. No. 100-245). By Charles E. Schamel, Mary Rephlo, Rodney Ross, David Kepley, Robert W. Coren, and James Gregory Bradsher. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1989.