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Joint Statement on Questions to Ask the Nominee for Archivist of the United States

Prepared by
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 plays a vital role in protecting and preserving essential records of government action. It is a position of trust for the American people and thus requires the highest level of skills and knowledge regarding leadership and management of records vital to protect the rights of citizens, hold government officials and agencies accountable, and preserve evidence of the role of government in American life. In evaluating the nomination of Professor Allen Weinstein, or any other individual, as the next Archivist of the United States, NAGARA, COSHRC, and SAA recommend asking the nominee the following questions, based on a list of qualifications that we think are essential for this important position of public trust. This list of questions supplements the three organizations' "Joint Statement on Selection Criteria for the Archivist of the United States."

Leadership and Advocacy

  1. Demonstrated ability to provide leadership and advocacy on behalf of the National Archives and Records Administration’s (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.
    • How should NARA pursue its dual role of protecting cultural heritage and preserving governmental records for evidence, accountability, and authenticity?
    • How have you demonstrated your ability as a leader of a very large, diverse, and dispersed nationwide staff that has experienced frequent reorganizations?
    • What have been the biggest challenges and accomplishments of NARA in the last decade, and what will they be for the next decade?
    • What is the appropriate balance among the functions of records management, accessioning, archival arrangement, description, reference, preservation, and online access in a major national recordkeeping program, and how does a manager ensure that this balance is appropriately maintained?
  2. 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.
    • What would be your top three priorities as Archivist of the United States, and how would they differ (if at all) from the current direction being followed by NARA as spelled out in NARA’s strategic plan and explained in its annual report?
    • What initiatives should NARA undertake in meeting the challenges of electronic recordkeeping systems and such electronic record types as e-mail and database systems?
    • How would you energize and inspire an aging workforce that has been working with immense holdings, limited resources, and many unfunded mandates?
  3. 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.
    • How would you explain to Congress and the executive branch the mission and significance of NARA and its programs in order to ensure its strategic positioning within the government?
    • What steps would you take to secure the enhanced resources necessary for NARA to fulfill its mission?


  1. 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.
    • Please explain your previous experience in managing large organizations and what skills you would bring to this process.
    • What is your management style and how do you implement it?
    • Please provide some specifics on how you would manage NARA’s crumbling buildings (particularly those leased from GSA), deteriorating records requiring substantial assessment and stabilization, substantial descriptive backlogs, and need for better assessment of and cooperative transfer of agency holdings.
    • How would you manage NARA’s need to capture the expertise long held by soon-to-retire members of the agency’s aging workforce?
    • Please explain your previous experience in working with internal foundations and friends groups. What key skills do you have that would ensure successful partnerships between NARA and these key groups?
  2. 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.
    • Please explain your experience in working with the federal government and how you would work with Congress, the courts, and the White House to further archival issues, and specifically those related to NARA (e.g., records schedule compliance, the Electronic Records Archives, and needed resources).
    • Please explain your experience and skills in the resolution of intractable problems, and give examples of your successes and failures in problem resolution.
  3. Experience in seeking the advice and counsel of constituent and user groups, including professional associations, and in responding to constituent needs.
    • Please explain your experience in working with the community of archival users, including academic historians, tribes, lawyers, the press, federal agency staff, educators and students, veterans, cultures and communities documented in federal records, local and family historians, publishers, and others. What key skills do you have that would ensure successful partnerships with these various user groups?
    • Please explain your experience in managing, requesting funds from, and working collaboratively with fundraising and distribution bodies such as the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and private foundations. What key skills do you have that would ensure successful partnerships with these bodies?
    • Please explain your previous experience working with the local, national, and international communities of archivists and records managers and their professional organizations. What key skills do you have that would ensure successful partnerships with these groups?
    • Please explain your experience in working with consortia for description (such as RLIN, OCLC), preservation (such as RAP and REALACT), and online electronic publishing and exhibition work (such as OCLC and Online Library of California). What key skills do you have that would ensure successful partnerships with these groups?
  4. 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.
    • What specific steps would you take to develop strong working relationships with federal agencies and state and local governments?
    • Please explain your experience in working with major archival collections donors, including federal agencies as records creators. What skills do you have that would ensure successful partnerships with such donors?
    • What role should NARA play in the national and international archival and records management communities, including professional associations?
    • What role should NARA play in the international community of national archives, including the International Congress on Archives?
    • How should NARA be involved in the national and international archival and records management standards-setting communities, such as NIST, NISO, ARMA, and AIIM?

Professional Knowledge and Values

  1. Demonstrated commitment to protecting the professional integrity and political non-partisanship of NARA as a governmental agency in carrying out its essential functions.
    • How would you protect NARA from political or partisan interference in regard to such issues as establishment of presidential libraries, access to public records, and government ownership and control of public records?
    • What are the biggest challenges facing the archival and records management professions in the 21st century?
  2. 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.
    • How should NARA work to maintain a balance between access and usage restrictions, including new antiterrorism legislation and the USA PATRIOT Act, and the public’s right to protect the privacy of their own records and to access records of their federal government?
    • How would you make NARA more relevant to the general public and build support for NARA’s needs?
    • What is your viewpoint on the recent copyright term extensions? How might the U.S. best balance copyright creators’ rights to gain an equitable benefit from their work against the need for a public domain of copyright-free work to foster public creativity as described in the U.S. Constitution?
    • What is your viewpoint on proposals for cultural copyright or cultural privacy laws to protect tribal cultural patrimony in the U.S.? How best might the U.S. balance the wishes of numerous tribal and cultural groups for a form of cultural protection scheme (as proposed by UNESCO or as currently is law in Australia, New Zealand, and Panama) and the need for a broad public domain to foster public creativity as described in the U.S. Constitution?
  3. 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.
    • How might NARA convince courts, Congress, the White House, and the public that an open democracy requires the speedy availability of federal records to all interested citizens?
    • What measures would you take to ensure the political and ideological independence of NARA when confronted by political demands or pressures?
    • Please discuss your commitment to the provisions of the Presidential Records Act and other legislation that provides for public ownership of governmental records.

Personal Expertise and Reputation

  1. 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.
    • Please describe your previous experience with archives and records management in the United States or abroad. Would you please characterize this as a user, a manager, a partner, or a stakeholder, and explain your response?
    • Please describe your previous experience with the National Archives and Records Administration and characterize this experience. What, if anything, did you find notable or interesting in this experience?
    • Please describe your experience and knowledge of electronic records issues. Why is electronic records management crucial to the federal government, to NARA, and to the nation? What useful initiatives are either underway or should be developed to create standards, systems, organizations, consortia, protocols, best practices, and procedures to deal with these records?
  2. 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.
    • Why are you interested in this position? What will you bring to the job that will make a difference to NARA, the archival and records management professions, records-creating organizations/individuals, and NARA’s users and stakeholders?
    • What professional credentials and experience best prepare you for the position of Archivist of the United States?
    • As an academic historian, how will you ensure that the needs and concerns of other interest groups—including legal researchers, genealogists, public officials, and private citizens—receive adequate support and attention?
    • How would you apply ethical principles, such as those articulated in the Society of American Archivists’ Code of Ethics, to the operation of NARA in respect to relations with donors and records-creating agencies, restrictions on access, appraisal, description, privacy, and research use?


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