The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 6, Number 2
Apr 1982


Crisis in the National Archives

Anyone who has seen Jack Anderson's or Indy Badhwar's hostile articles on the National Archives and Records Service must have wondered what was going on. For the benefit of people who have missed these articles, here are a few of the headlines they have used:

PRICELESS RECORDS ALLOWED TO ROT

RARE PAPERS PERILED: NATIONAL TREASURES ROTTING IN ARCHIVES

HISTORICAL SHOCK: THE DISGRACE OF OUR NATIONAL ARCHIVES

Readers who have no other source of information on the Archives might react to this alleged problem of rot ting treasures by demanding that as many Archives personnel as possible be laid off, and that the Archives itself be divested of as much responsibility as possible--and in fact (though we probably cannot blame it on Jack Anderson) this is the treatment it has been getting from its parent organization, the General Services Administration, in addition to its share of budgetary cutbacks and more than its share of administrative interference.

(Just to Set the record straight: the Archives has serious organizational problems, but the care it gives its documents is not far different from that given to most large research collections,)

In recent years both the General Accounting Office and the House Subcommittee on Information and Individual Rights have investigated the Archives' preservation activities, Mostly as a result of those investigations, there has been some progress in updating the preservation program for documents, maps, photographic records and ma chine-readable records. This progress was not seen as adequate by the Chairman of the Information Subcommittee in last month's hearings; but to those familiar with the situation, it has seemed remarkable and gratifying, in view of the fact that there has been only one formally trained conservator on the staff. (Another trained conservator will join the staff in May in a supervisory position.) If budget support for preservation continues as promised, progress can be expected to continue, but bringing it about may be an uphill fight if the rest of the Archives organization is in poor shape, at least until the relationship of the GSA and the National Archives changes markedly for the better--or is dissolved completely.

The National Archives has some friends both in Congress and on the outside, who are doing what they can. One of them is the National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History, an association of 13 historical organizations who are monitoring the situation and making information available in timely fact sheets and reports, excerpted below. The NCC's administrative offices are at 400 A Street, S.E., Washington, DC 20003 (202-544-2422). Dr. Page Putnam Miller is the Project Director.

Project Director's Report, January 26, 1982

The current crisis at the National Archives is taking place on many fronts. Our response is thus made more difficult and must be geared to several separate problems:

Separation from the General Services Administration (GSA).

Since 1949 the Archives has been under the supervision of GSA. Much evidence, including a series of in-depth studies of the relationship, suggest that the Archives has suffered by being a part of the GSA empire. The present arrangement gives the GSA Administrator the authority to make many archival decisions which are completely beyond his expertise. As Thomas Eagleton, a strong advocate of independence for the Archives, recently said, "The Archives will not receive adequate attention and funding until it is removed from GSA."

Gerald P. Carmen, the present GSA Administrator, is currently undertaking a reorganization of the National Archives that is in effect a debilitating dismemberment of the Archives. Various functions of the Archives are being transferred from the Archives and placed directly under GSA. Never has there been a greater need for the Archivist of the United States, and not the GSA Administrator, to have authority over the national records and control of the entire archival process.

Senate bill S. 1421, that would separate the National Archives from GSA, has not been reported out of the Senate Subcommittee on Civil Service, Post Office and General Services. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), Chair of this subcommittee, should be thanked for holding hearings on S. 1421 and urged to recommend this important piece of legislation to the Committee on Governmental Affairs.

Key Points (from Fact Sheet entitled "The Subordination of the National Archives and Records Service to the General Services Administration")

Adequate Funding for the National Archives and Records Service (Fact Sheet)

NARS is currently operating under a continuing resolution budget of $75 million. The president's proposed budget for Fiscal Year '83 recommends $85 million for NARS [and this amount was requested by the Archivist and the Administrator before the House Appropriations Commit tee on March 16]. Although this represents an increase over the continuing resolution budget, it includes several added expenditures such as the transfer of approximately $1 million in costs from the GPO for printing the Federal Register, the absorption of pay raises from the Pay Act, and increased amounts for operating expenses. This . . . is in fact a $10 million reduction from the FY '81 NARS bud get of $89.7 million. The proposed Reagan budget of $85 million will simply not enable the National Archives to carry out its legally mandated functions of preserving, accessioning, and servicing the records of the three branches of the federal government.

The items listed below comprise a conservative estimate of the additional funds that must be added to the proposed $85 million to enable NARS to fulfill its mandated mission... [Of the 13 categories listed, only those related to preservation are given below.]

Preservation

Immediate Planning Needs

Reestablishment of Programs and Personnel Reduced or Eliminated by Recent Cuts

National Historical Publications and Records Commission (Fact Sheet)

The National Historical Publications Commission was created with the National Archives in 1934, first given its own staff in 1951, authorized to make grants in 1964, and reorganized in 1975 as the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.... The NHPRC has an out standing record of using Federal funds to stimulate private contributions to records preservation and publication projects. In spite of these achievements, when the Office of Management and Budget submitted the FY '82 and FY '83 budget, ZERO funding was recommended for the 17-year-old grants program. The withdrawal of federal funds, if allowed to go unchallenged, will mean the end of the records preservation program and the termination of more than half of the publications projects.

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