National Archives Releases Recommendations from Internal Task Force on Racism
Last year, as our nation was confronting ongoing issues related to racial justice, Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero established a task force of National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) employees to identify issues of racial inequality in both our customer-facing operations and internally within our workplaces, in pursuit of an equitable and inclusive environment for all employees and customers.
“As the home of this nation’s founding documents—the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights—we have a special responsibility to the ideals that all people are created equal, that all people have equal protection under the law, and that there is a common good that includes us all,” Ferriero said. “Although we as a nation have fallen short at times, these are the goals we aspire to as Americans, for all Americans, and the ideals that drove the work of the task force.”
The 35 members of the Archivist’s Task Force on Racism formed three groups:
- The main Task Force on Racism addressed the employee experience (issues such as recruitment, advancement, retention, assignment of work, and access to opportunities); diversity and inclusion (how we interact with each other and our customers); and race-based harassment and discrimination.
- The Subgroup on Archival Description examined matters relating to anachronistic or offensive terminology that have been used to describe our historical records;
- The Subgroup on Museums examined how we ensure a diversity of representation, viewpoints, access, and outreach in our exhibits, education, and public programs.
These groups researched contemporary conditions within NARA, consulted staff and experts outside the agency, and scrutinized issues such as the hiring process and workplace culture and what researchers and the broader public see and understand of the National Archives’ work. The result, released to staff in April 2021, is a final report that identifies issues “both explicit and implicit” that stem from structural racism.
The task force recommended a robust series of actions to move the agency forward on a path toward diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion. Ferriero accepted the recommendations in full.
“It is obvious to me from my reading of the report that we share a common desire to make NARA a better and more equitable workplace. It also points out our responsibilities to the greater archival community, acknowledging harmful past practices of our own, and building on the work of other archival and cultural heritage institutions which have led the way on efforts towards change,” Ferriero told employees at a May 11, 2021, town hall meeting to discuss the report. “This is a remarkable milestone, but as I've shared with the task force members, this is just the beginning.”
The following are some of the report’s recommendations:
For researchers, museum visitors, and other members of the public
- Establish meaningful consultation, engagement, and collaboration with underserved and underrepresented communities.
- Reimagine the National Archives Rotunda at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, to create a more inclusive and historically accurate tribute to the nation’s founding.
- Ensure our exhibitions across the agency better reflect the experiences and roles of all people who have lived in what is now the United States.
- Establish a clearly defined virtual exhibit and education outreach program, specifically welcoming Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC).
- Engage in a comprehensive reparative description program, ensuring that our historical records are described using respectful, accurate, and discoverable terminology. Alert users to potentially harmful content in the National Archives Catalog; create a road map for correcting harmful language; and develop processes to correct description for under-described and over-described records.
- Focus digitization efforts on records related to underrepresented communities.
- Address the needs of non-English and low–English-proficiency speakers to promote equal access to our services.
For current and future employees
- Refocus current programs into a comprehensive Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion (DEAI) Program.
- Evaluate hiring practices and policies for bias, unfairness, and legality; evaluate our performance management system to ensure that NARA staff are evaluated on the quality of their work, without racial or other discrimination.
- Develop targeted recruitment programs aimed at meeting diversity goals in NARA’s workforce.
- Develop a strategy to train, recruit, and retain more diverse staff in senior leadership positions.
- Examine and address barriers that discourage or prevent Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) from securing staff, internship, and volunteer positions.
- Develop a centralized internship program, with in-person and virtual offerings, to recruit and bring awareness to students of diverse backgrounds.
- Establish training and development programs to promote an equitable environment.
The full report, which includes the methodologies used in the task force’s assessment and more detailed recommendations, is now available to the public.
NARA has begun taking the first steps to implement many of these recommendations, in part through the framework of Executive Order (E.O.) 13985, Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, which outlines a whole-of-government approach to advancing equity and opportunity for all.
NARA leadership and staff are dedicated to working for meaningful and long-lasting changes for our employees and for the communities we serve. We look forward to sharing our progress with you as it unfolds.
June 14, 2021