Joint Committee on Historians and Archivists Issues Statement about Selection of U.S. Archivist

Deborah Skaggs, May 1995

Editor's Note: On March 29 the Joint Committee on Historians and Archivists, which was established and appointed by the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, and the Society of American Archivists, addressed the following letter to President Clinton regarding the selection of a U.S. Archivist.

I write to you in my capacity as chair of the Joint Committee on Historians and Archivists, established and appointed by the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, and the Society of American Archivists to address issues of mutual interest. The Joint Committee has asked me to convey to you concerns raised at our March 26 meeting regarding the selection of U.S. Archivist.

We are concerned about misconceptions that have been repeated a number of times in the national press—that historians and archivists cannot agree on qualifications or candidates for Archivist and that the role of the three professional associations has been obstructionist, only attacking individual candidates and not contributing positively to the appointment process. That is not the case. Rather, the three organizations have made every effort to support the review process overseen by the White House. As you know, when Archives independence legislation was passed in 1985, report language stated the intent of the House Government Operations Committee that the professional associations be consulted as part of the appointment process. Accordingly, over the past two years, the three organizations have responded to White House requests for suggestions of possible candidates, met and consulted with staff in Presidential Personnel, and repeatedly expressed our interest in assisting in the review process.

Moreover, in evaluating the credentials of those individuals who have been seriously considered, the three organizations have generally been in agreement. We have agreed that seven individuals who have been interviewed by Presidential Personnel met the qualifications stated in the legislation and two did not. In only two cases did the historical and archival organizations disagree about whether an individual had appropriate qualifications.

We have been able to agree on individual candidates because, more fundamentally, we agree on the appropriate qualifications for this crucial office. The organizations support Congress's call for a nonpartisan, professional appointment and agree that the minimum qualifications include demonstrated professional expertise in history, archival theory and practice, or a related field; national stature among archivists, historians, and other professionals concerned with the integrity of federal records; successful experience in administering programs with responsibility for cultural or informational resources; and demonstrated understanding of archival concerns and of the role of historical research in documenting federal policies, programs, and actions.

We look forward to continuing to work with you for the expeditious appointment of an Archivist who can provide this agency with the leadership and direction it so seriously needs.

Deborah Skaggs
Chair, Joint Committee
Alabama Department of Archives and History