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ARCHIVES Home

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ARCHIVES  April 2006, Week 3

ARCHIVES April 2006, Week 3

Subject:

Re: nara and reclassification

From:

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Date:

Thu, 20 Apr 2006 15:41:11 -0400

Content-Type:

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text/plain (74 lines)

Linda raises some interesting points.  There are a number of ways an 
executive branch agency can be punished.  NARA is not immune to any of 
them.  I myself don't think that SAA balanced criticism of NARA against 
efforts to fight for its budget.  But I could be wrong.  Just as we 
don't know what led NARA to sign the agreements, so too do we lack 
insights into what influenced the crafting of SAA's statement.  (I'm 
actually an SAA member again, after being out for some time.)

As to independence, many people have grappled with that subject.  A 
personal note, for what it is worth.  My twin sister, Eva, worked for 
18 years in NARA's records declassification division (from 1983 until 
her death from cancer in 2002).  From what I remember, I can tell you 
that she seemed to feel the potential challenges to NARA's independence 
came up with my field of specialty  -- Presidential records --  rather 
than hers  -- national security classified records  As close as we 
were, although we were Federal employees in very similar job 
situations, she never talked about what was in the security classified 
documents she handled, just as I never talked about unreleased 
information in the Nixon records.  That even was the case while we both 
worked as NARA employees (I started there in 1976 and left in 1990).

During the period after Don Wilson stepped down as U.S. Archivist 13 
years ago, I was in contact on an informal basis for a while with 
William Josephson, who was a law partner of R. Sargent Shriver 
(President John Kennedy's brother-in-law).  Mr. Josephson published a 
commentary about NARA in the Chronicle of Higher Education on June 18, 
1995.  The piece was entitled "The Legislative Branch Should Run the 
National Archives."    Mr. Josephson then wrote:

"As a result of such continuing difficulties, I've concluded that the 
problems of the Archives are, in important part, structural. Right now, 
the agency is seen as just one of many lesser executive-branch 
agencies, without a well-defined and powerful constituency interested 
in seeing it given adequate power to carry out its responsibilities. As 
long as that is the case, the Archives cannot develop the political 
support needed to stand up to recalcitrant officials of the executive 
branch who do not want to turn over their records for public scrutiny.

Further, as long as the Archivist remains a Presidential appointee 
serving at the will of the President, the position is not likely to be 
filled by an independent and well-qualified professional willing to 
stand up to the President."

If any of you have access to ProQuest, or to the CHE's electronic 
archives, you might want to look up the Josephson article.  I myself 
have pointed out here and elsewhere that scholars often act as if NARA 
is part of a mythical fourth branch of government.  Few seem to 
understand how it operates or to think strategically or tactically 
about how to support its mission.  I note with interest that H-Net's 
historians' message boards are nearly devoid of comment about the 
reclassification controversy.  Equally deafening is the silence on the 
History News Network, which really doesn't draw historians, but often 
is used by various blowhards for different political rants.  Although I 
am one myself, I mostly shake my head at historians.  They seem to 
perfer to function as armchair analysts rather than to engage in 
difficult and often scary public policy battles in order to help NARA.

Maarja


.   

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