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Joint Statement on Selection Criteria for the Archivist of the United States

The Society of American Archivists
The National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators
The Council of State Historical Records Coordinators

April 26, 2004

 

The Archivist of the United States leads one of the most significant non-partisan agencies of the United States government, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). As custodian of the nation’s essential legal and historical records, NARA performs a critical role in:

  • Ensuring adequate documentation of the government’s actions and decisions;
  • Holding government officials and agencies accountable for public service;
  • Safeguarding the rights and privileges of individual citizens as well as many groups and communities of interest in society; and
  • Preserving the cultural heritage and historical memory of government for the best interests of all citizens.

The individual holding this trust on behalf of the American people must hold the highest possible confidence of the people in his/her ability to fulfill these duties in an open, fair, and nonpartisan manner.

With the announcement that Archivist of the United States John Carlin will be stepping down and that President George W. Bush has nominated Professor Allen Weinstein to be the next Archivist, the review of Professor Weinstein’s qualifications for this position becomes a paramount concern. The next Archivist must address both the leadership and management challenges at NARA and the critical challenge of stewardship of the nation’s archival record in today’s rapidly changing electronic information environment. In order to ensure this result, the nomination and confirmation process must conform to legal requirements and must address concerns raised by professional archivists, records managers, and historians concerning the person nominated to be Archivist of the United States.

The leadership of SAA, NAGARA, and COSHRC offer the following joint recommendations on the selection of the next Archivist of the United States.

Selection Process

On April 8, 2004, the White House nominated Dr. Allen Weinstein to become the next Archivist of the United States. Prior to the announcement, there was no consultation with professional organizations of archivists or historians. This is the first time since the National Archives and Records Administration was established as an independent agency in 1985 that the process of nominating an Archivist of the United States has not been open for public discussion and input. We believe that Professor Weinstein must—through appropriate and public discussions and hearings—demonstrate his ability to meet the criteria that will qualify him to serve as Archivist of the United States.

When former President Ronald Reagan signed the National Archives and Records Administration Act of 1984 (Public Law 98-497), he said that, “the materials that the Archives safeguards are precious and irreplaceable national treasures and the agency that looks after the historical records of the Federal Government should be accorded a status that is commensurate with its important responsibilities.” Earlier in 1984, when the National Archives Act was being discussed, Senate Report 98-373 cautioned that if the Archivist was appointed “arbitrarily, or motivated by political considerations, the historical records could be impoverished [or] even distorted.”

P. L. 98-497 clearly states that, “The Archivist shall be appointed without regard to political affiliations and solely on the basis of the professional qualifications required to perform the duties and responsibilities of the office of Archivist.” In 1984, House Report 98-707 noted, “The committee expects that [determining professional qualifications] will be achieved through consultation with recognized organizations of archivists and historians.” The law also states that when the Archivist is replaced, the President “shall communicate the reasons for such removal to each House of Congress.” President Bush has not given a reason for the change, and there is no evidence to suggest that it is being made because of John Carlin’s resignation.

SAA, NAGARA, and COSHRC recommend to the President and the White House Personnel Office that they:

  • Endorse an open and transparent process for selecting, nominating, and confirming the next Archivist of the United States.
  • Present Professor Weinstein’s nomination to the Senate for formal consideration and review.
  • Ensure that the review and selection process is consistent with the provisions of the National Archives Law (44 USC 2103), which indicates that the Archivist’s appointment must be made without regard to political affiliation and solely on the basis of professional qualifications required to perform the responsibilities of office.

SAA, NAGARA, and COSHRC call on the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs to schedule open hearings on this nomination in order to explore more fully:

  • The reasons why the Archivist is being replaced, and
  • Professor Weinstein’s qualifications to become Archivist of the United States.

Suggested Selection Criteria

In evaluating the nomination of Professor Allen Weinstein, or any other nominee, as the next Archivist of the United States, SAA, NAGARA, and COSHRC believe that the following qualifications are essential for this important position of public trust:

Leadership and Advocacy

  • Demonstrated ability to provide leadership and advocacy on behalf of NARA’s dual role in preserving cultural heritage and in ensuring that public records serve the purposes of evidence, accountability, and authenticity in protecting the rights of all citizens.
  • Demonstrated vision for the future of government archives and information management, including development and implementation of information policy and provision for the management of electronic records, such as the Electronic Records Archives project.
  • Proven ability to articulate a compelling defense of informational resources, and the importance of strong, impartial programs for their care and management, to public officials, resource allocators, users, and the general public.

Management

  • Proven ability as an administrator capable of managing an extensive and diverse government agency with broad responsibilities, including an ability to ensure effective implementation of NARA’s mandate and efficiency and productivity in its operations and use of resources.
  • Experience in working effectively with legislators, government officials, trustees, and government and private resource allocators in ways that ensure adequate support for programs, even in time of financial stringency.
  • Experience in seeking the advice and counsel of constituent and user groups, including professional associations, and in responding to constituent needs.
  • Commitment to working creatively with other offices of the federal government, with state and local governments, and with other archival programs, including those in foreign countries, to effectively address shared responsibilities and concerns.

Professional Knowledge and Values

  • Demonstrated commitment to protecting the professional integrity and political non-partisanship of NARA as a governmental agency in carrying out its essential functions.
  • Unquestioned commitment to open and equal access to governmental records by all citizens, in accordance with all governmental regulations and in compliance with privacy protections for individuals.
  • Strong commitment to the principles of public ownership of governmental records and to the goal of holding public leaders accountable to the people through documentation and records of their actions.

Personal Expertise and Reputation

  • Knowledge and understanding of the critical issues confronting NARA and the archival profession generally, especially the challenges of information technology, and the competing demands of public access to government records, privacy, homeland security, and ensuring the authenticity and integrity of all public records.
  • A reputation for excellence, leadership, and effectiveness within the individual’s profession, including appropriate scholarly credentials, and sufficient national stature to enable the Archivist to be seen as a leader by a wide range of constituent groups.

 

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