Publication Date

January 1, 1993

Perspectives Section


National Archives Responses to Senate Report on Mismanagement

On November 23, three weeks following the release of a Senate report on mismanagement at the National Archives, U.S. Archivist Don Wilson responded with an “Action Plan” to address some of the identified problems. The Senate report, “Serious Management Problems at the National Archives and Records Administration,” focused primarily on a flawed selection process at the National Archives that gave inflated recommendations to an internal candidate who had neither the training nor the experience of many of the other nineteen applicants for the position of inspector general. Additionally the report detailed subsequent examples of inappropriate conduct of the National Archives’ first inspector general, Lawrence Oberg. It stated that he violated statutory requirements concerning impartiality and confidentiality as well as a prohibition against engaging in agency operations and taking supervision from anyone other than the agency head.

The report concluded 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.”

Immediately following the release of the Senate report, Wilson wrote to the chairman 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.”

In announcing his six point “Action Plan,” Wilson said the plan “will resolve those problems and perceptions” that had been identified in the Senate report. The plan deals with several personnel issues. Wilson relieved the inspector general of his duties and detailed Claudine Weiher, the current deputy archivist, to the position of assistant archivist for the Office of Special and Regional Archives. Raymond Mosley, who had held that position, is now the acting deputy archivist.

Several points in the “Action Plan” address Wilson’s desire “to create a more participatory management structure” and a more cooperative spirit with both congressional committees and outside constituency groups. He announced the establishment of a new internal management council to deal with agency priorities, problems, and policy decisions and expressed his desire to reestablish, by February 15, the National Archives Advisory Council. Support for an expanded strategic planning process was also a part of the “Action Plan.” The planning process will “include full management participation, active consultation with National Archives constituents, and the use of professionally recognized planning experts.” The goal of this process, Wilson stated, “is to have a model strategic plan for NARA, integrated with both budget and personnel planning and allocation, by February 15, 1993.”

For the last several years, some in the historical and archival professions have expressed disappointment that Wilson has not provided needed leadership and has often isolated himself and the agency from users, the Congress, and other agencies. There is considerable discussion within the constituent communities as to whether the proposed “Action Plan” offers too little, too late. In 1989 the NCC member organizations sent to the National Archives a report, “Developing a Premier National Institution: A Report from the User Community to the National Archives,” that contained a number of substantive recommendations that received little attention from the archivist. However, a number of the key NCC recommendations are now, three years later and with prodding from the Senate oversight committee, a part of the “Action Plan.”

While there is a desire for stronger leadership at the National Archives, even some of Wilson’s critics have voiced concern that the Senate report and pressure for changes, coming at the time of a presidential transition, might lead to the politicization of the position of U.S. Archivist. Commenting on the Senate report, Anne Kenney, president of the Society of American Archivists, stated that “While regretting the circumstances surrounding these investigations, SAA is pleased to see Congress devoting attention to the effectiveness of one of the nation’s premier cultural institutions.” But Kenney added that “it is SAA’s hope that the timing of these investigations will not compromise the political independence of the National Archives.”

Representatives of the NCC member organizations will be meeting on December 28 during the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in Washington to consider how best to respond to the Senate report, the Archivist’s recently announced “Action Plan,” and general issues related to the future of the National Archives.

Further Reduction of Hours Expected at the Library of Congress

Because of fiscal constraints, the Library of Congress plans to reduce hours for the Main Reading Room, as well as the Local History and Genealogy, Microfilm, Science and Business Alcove, Newspapers and Current Periodicals, and Law Library reading rooms. Beginning January 2 these rooms will close at 5 p.m. on Tuesday and Friday evenings instead of the current closing time of 9:30 p.m. This is a reduction from 77.5 to 68.5 hours per week. The plan also calls for these rooms to be closed on Sundays during the summer months. The cutbacks aim to minimize the need for furloughs and reductions in force. Although Congress approved a $6.1 million budgetary increase for fiscal 1993, this is $12.5 million less than the amount requested by the Library of Congress to offset mandatory pay and price increases. “This is not business as usual,” said John D. Webster, the Library’s director of financial services. “Many of the Library’s programs are in the process of downsizing during fiscal 1993, and we need to figure out how to continue services to our constituencies while making the most creative, frugal use of the resources provided.” Increased security measures, such as reduction of stack passes for staff and elimination of passes for scholars, have resulted in significantly increased workloads for deck attendants who fetch the books.

Progress in Litigation to Preserve Electronic Data and Records

On November 20 Judge Charles Richey of the Federal District Court issued a 10-day renewable restraining order that bars the Bush administration from destroying any computer backup tapes, including any it creates in the future. The restraining order applies to President Bush, the Executive Office of the President, and the National Security Council. It extends Armstrong et al. v. Executive Office of the President (the “PROFS case” initiated against the Reagan Administration four years ago), to encompass the electronic mail systems that have been used under President Bush. Co-plaintiffs in this case include the American Historical Association and the American Library Association, as well as the National Security Archive and the Center for National Security Studies. Tom Blanton, executive director of the National Security Archive, noted that Judge Richey’s order seeks to “apply the common sense principles of the post-Watergate federal records laws and the Freedom of Information Act” to the President.

Lynne Cheney Announces Plans to Resign as Head of NEH

On December 1 Lynne Cheney, the chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, announced her plans to resign on January 20 instead of completing her second four-year term which is slated to end in May of 1994. In her six-and-a-half years at NEH she pursued a greater role for the NEH in precollegiate education, increased the NEH budget from $136 million to $177 million, and served as a strong critic of “political correctness.”

Page Putnam Miller
Page Putnam Miller

University of South Carolina