Publication Date

December 1, 1992

Perspectives Section


Congressional Report Outlines Mismanagement at the National Archives

On November 2, Sen. John Glenn (D-OH), chair of the Committee on Governmental Affairs, released a report following a year-long investigation, titled “Serious Management Problems at the National Archives and Records Administration” (S.Prt. 102-108). Glenn undertook this study as part of his ongoing oversight of Inspector General offices. In 1988 Congress amended the Inspector General Act to include the National Archives as one of thirty-three additional agencies that should establish Inspector General offices. The law required the agency head to select an Inspector General who could act in an impartial and independent manner to detect and prevent fraud, waste, and abuse in the agency. The Glenn report focuses on a flawed selection process at the National Archives that gave inflated recommendations to an internal candidate who lacked the training and experience of many of the other nineteen applicants for the position of Inspector General. With nine appendices and almost two hundred endnotes, the report documents the selection process and the performance of the National Archives’ first Inspector General.

The National Archives’ leadership decided to post the opening for the position of Inspector General only in the Washington metropolitan area, provided a response time of less than two weeks, and interviewed only Lawrence Oberg, one of two internal candidates, who was selected to head the new Inspector General office

The report also details subsequent examples of inappropriate conduct by Oberg, stating that he violated statutory requirements calling for impartiality and confidentiality and a prohibition against engaging in agency operations and taking supervision from anyone other than the agency head. In releasing the report, Sen. Glenn stressed that at the National Archives “a situation existed where the Inspector General continued to act in a subordinate position to his previous bosses, the Deputy Archivist and Assistant Archivist.” In a case such as this “it is virtually impossible,” Glenn stated, “for the Inspector General office to exhibit impartiality in its work.”

In a strongly worded conclusion, the report states that “the management of the National Archives and Records Administration has, during the years 1989–1992, reflected a pattern of expedience and control which has been regularly substituted for sound management.” The report attributes part of the problem to the U.S. Archivist having “removed himself unduly from management responsibilities” and failing to provide needed supervision. In a series of recommendations, the Committee urges a review of the Archivist by the President; a review of the Inspector General by the Archivist; and a review by the Archivist of the conduct of other National Archives officials.

The day following the release of the report, Don Wilson, the U.S. Archivist, wrote to the Chair of the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency, Frank Hodsoll, to whom Senator Glenn had referred the Committee report. In the letter to Hodsoll, Wilson stated that he would “heartily welcome” his review and that “every NARA staff member will cooperate fully in any inquiries your staff undertakes.”

Some in the historical profession have expressed disappointment that the Archivist, Don Wilson, has not provided needed leadership and has, in many ways, isolated himself and the agency from users, the Congress, and other agencies. But while there is a desire for stronger leadership, even some of Wilson’s critics have voiced concern that this report, coming at the time of a presidential transition, not lead to the politicization of the position of U.S. Archivist.

Amendments to the National Historic Preservation Act Passed in Last Days of the 102nd Congress

On October 30 the President signed into law H.R.429, a major water conservation bill, the Reclamation Projects Act, which in Title 40 included amendments to the Historic Preservation Act. The historic preservation amendments, frequently referred to as the Fowler/Bennett bill for the sponsors Sen. Wyche Fowler (D-GA) and Rep. Charles Bennett (D-FL), have been under consideration since 1988. Following considerable revisions, the new law emphasizes the partnership between the National Park Service, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the State Historic Preservation offices. At the same time this law includes provisions that will allow State Historic Preservation offices, meeting certain standards, to assume additional responsibilities in the identification and preservation of historic properties. The law also provides added protection for properties listed on the National Register and calls for the establishment of a National Center for Preservation Technology within the National Park Service. A section on professional standards was of special concern to historians. Early versions of this legislation focused primarily on the need for professional standards for archaeologists. Through the efforts of historians and the support of Rep. Bruce Vento (D-MN), the final legislation strengthens the professionalism of all federal employees and contractors involved in historic preservation work. The law describes the role of the Office of Personnel Management in revising qualification standards for a number of disciplines, including history. This section states that “the standards shall consider the particular skills and expertise needed for the preservation of historic resources” and clarifies that there shall be “equivalent requirements” for all the disciplines involved. For many years historians have worked to change the Secretary of Interior’s Cultural Resource Management Standards, which required only a bachelor’s degree for historians but a graduate degree for archaeologists.

President Signs Law to Open JFK Assassination Records

On October 26 the President signed into law S. 3006, legislation that will require the public disclosure of most of the government’s secret files relating to the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. However, in a signing statement President Bush asserted that the legislation was not consistent with his “authority under the Constitution to protect confidential executive branch materials and to supervise and guide executive branch officials.” The law calls for a five-person review board that will serve as an independent agency to ensure and facilitate the review, transmission to the Archivist, and public disclosure of government records related to the assassination of President Kennedy. The board will have the responsibility of obtaining assassination records from any government office, including the CIA and the FBI, and will have the authority to hold hearings and subpoena witnesses or documents. One provision of the law of specific concern to the President is the section stating that “the President shall make nominations to the Review Board after considering persons recommended by the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, the Society of American Archivists, and the American Bar Association.” In response to this portion of the law, the President criticized the legislation for requiring him to consider names supplied by specified organizations. “These provisions,” the President asserted, “conflict with the constitutional division of responsibility between the President and the Congress. The President has the sole power of nomination, the Senate has the sole power of consent.” After receiving the President’s signing statement, Leonard Weiss, staff director for the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, stated: “For the President, at the last second in signing the bill, to suddenly assert authority not in keeping with the letter or spirit of the bill, is to do violence to the legislative process.”

National Park Service Publishes a Directory of Cultural Resource Management Training Opportunities

A Directory of Training Opportunities in Cultural Resource Management (Short Term) identifies workshops, courses, seminars, and classes held from October 1992 through December 1993 on cultural resource topics offered by federal and state agencies, universities, and other organizations throughout the United States. The classes range in duration from one day to several weeks. In addition to the course listings, the directory provides four indexes that enable the reader to find course information by topic, state, date, or title. The directory also provides addresses where information on longer term courses and degree programs may be obtained. Single complimentary copies of the directory may be secured by writing to Emogene Bevitt, Preservation Assistance Division, National Park Service, P.O. Box 37127, Washington, D.C. 20013-7127. Telephone: (202) 343- 9561.

Page Putnam Miller
Page Putnam Miller

University of South Carolina