Publication Date

April 1, 1993

Don Wilson Resigns as U.S. Archivist

After five and a half years as head of the National Archives, Don W. Wilson announced on February 12 that he will be stepping down at the end of March. During the past year congressional committees, journalists, and professional groups have expressed considerable disappointment in the failure of the National Archives to deal effectively with many pressing issues. As recently as January 31, the Council of the Society of American Archivists adopted a resolution that noted that the National Archives has not aggressively exercised the authority it does have to ensure the preservation of important federal records and has not provided leadership in the development and implementation of a federal information policy.

Wilson announced that he is leaving the National Archives to become Research Professor of Presidential Studies and Executive Director of the George Bush Center at Texas A&M University, which is also the site of the future George Bush Presidential Library. While the George Bush Center will be affiliated with Texas A&M, the Bush Presidential Library will be part of the National Archives.

Senators John Glenn (D-OH), David Pryor (D-AR), and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), however, see possible conflict of interest issues in Wilson's new employment plans. In a February 16 letter to the Director of the Office of Government Ethics the senators noted that while Wilson was engaging in private employment negotiations, he signed a memorandum of agreement granting President Bush extraordinary control over the government's records, including electronic files at issue in the case of Armstrong v. Office of the President. (See March 1993, AHA Perspectives for a discussion of the January 20 agreement). The Justice Department and the Office of Government Ethics are currently looking into possible violations by Wilson of conflict of interest provisions in the Ethics in Government Act. In a deposition in the Armstrong v. Executive Office of the President case on March 2, Wilson stated that in early January he informed the legal counsel for the National Archives about his negotiations for future employment and asked to be advised about potential problems of conflict of interest.

The Clinton Administration is moving quickly to seek an eminently qualified person for the position of U.S. Archivist and has asked the assistance of professional associations. I met in early March with three members of the White House Personnel Office assigned to this task. They are a very impressive and capable group and include people experienced in conducting executive searches. We discussed desirable qualifications and the search procedures. I shared with them both a 1980s NCC qualifications statement for U.S. Archivist and one recently developed by the Society of American Archivists and the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administration. The White House group is developing a profile of the kind of person who could best lead the National Archives. They are most interested in receiving recommendations from historians and archivists and assured me that they are very aware of the legal requirement that the archivist be a "non-partisan professional" who will be able to act independently of the White House and are seeking a person whose public record reflects that balance. While they do not have a specific time table, the administration has made the search for a nominee for U.S. Archivist a top priority.

Trudy Peterson to be Acting Archivist

On March 9 U.S. Archivist Don Wilson announced that beginning March 25 Trudy Huskamp Peterson will be Deputy Archivist. Peterson, a former president of the Society of American Archivists, received a Ph.D. in American history from the University of Iowa and has worked for the National Archives since 1974. Since 1985 she has held the position of Assistant Archivist for the Office of Special and Regional Archives and appointed Raymond Mosley as Acting Deputy Archivist. The Federal Records Act states that in the absence of the Archivist, the Deputy Archivist shall act as Archivist. Thus, to avoid a situation in which an Acting Deputy would become an Acting Archivist, Wilson appointed Peterson to the deputy position. Personnel regulations of the federal government provide that following the confirmation of a new archivist, the Deputy Archivist, a senior executive service position, will serve 120 days and could then at the pleasure of the archivist continue or be reassigned.

Declassification Legislation Introduced

On January 21 Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) introduced S. 167, a bill to create a bipartisan commission to recommend ways to strengthen the protection of classified information and eliminate the classification of all nonsensitive information. In a floor statement, Moynihan described the current secrecy system as "all encompassing, smothering, suffocating." The problem, he noted, is that a system established during the Cold War wouldn't go away easily because its very existence was itself a kind of secret. "As the system has grown," he stated, "it has become harder and harder for government officials to discuss vital issues of the day with the American people." Additionally, he pointed out, "it is harder for colleagues in the scientific community to discuss research and technical breakthroughs with their peers." "Perhaps, most important, however," Moynihan asserted, "the secrecy system has dulled our senses. It cuts off criticism."

Moynihan thus called upon President Clinton to help address this problem, stating that "The new president could do no greater service to the nation and to his administration than to set about an energetic, determined, public dismantling of said secrecy system." The legislation calls for a commission "to conduct an investigation into all matters in any way related to any legislation, executive order, regulation, practice or procedure relating to the access to or the classification of information." The commission of twelve would have a bipartisan composition with the President, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives each appointing four members. The commission's task would be to "make such recommendations concerning the classification of national security information as the Commission shall see fit, including proposing new legislation."

Reauthorization of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission's Grant Program

The National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) is the primary federal agency which provides coordinated leadership across the nation for the identification and preservation of valuable nonfederal historical records. The current five-year authorization for the funding of NHPRC grants expires this year. On February 4, Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) introduced S. 314, a bill to authorize appropriations for fiscal year 1994 through fiscal year 1999. In introducing this bill, Sarbanes stressed that NHPRC has the important statutory mandate of promoting the preservation and use of American's historical legacy. On February 23, Representative Philip Sharp (D-IN) introduced a parallel bill, H.R. 1063. In preparing for reauthorization, Sharp commended NHPRC for reassessing its program and developing a detailed plan with priorities for future accomplishments. Both Sarbanes and Sharp expressed strong support for the NHPRC long-range planning document titled "To Protect a Priceless Legacy." Hearing dates for this legislation have not yet been set.

Library of Congress Legislation Caused Widespread Debate

On February 4 Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI) introduced S. 345, a bill to authorize the Library of Congress to recover direct and indirect costs from a wide range of services. However, the Librarian of Congress James H. Billington stressed at a hearing on February 26 that the library's fee-for-service proposal would not interfere with existing free services provided by the library. At the heart of the legislation are issues raised by the possibilities of new computer technology. Billington has said that he is seeking legislative authority to sell customized products, such as computer database searches. Yet the leadership of many of the national library associations have major concerns about how the lines will be drawn between fee and free services and how the legislation would be implemented.

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