State of the Archives Archivist’s Address 2010

[Male Speaker] 
Greetings to all of you
here in College Park and to all of you around the country who are joining us virtually.
It’s been just over a year now that I have been on the job and I think I know a little
more than when I talked to you last year after a month on the job.
It has been an intense year of listening and learning and adjusting to a new city and a
new work environment. I have fallen in love with the District of
Columbia and the agency. In the process I have become a huge fan of
the daily horoscopes in the Washington Post. And earlier this month my favorite so far
was printed. I am going to read it to you.
“Many feel limited by the work they do. You won’t be in this category today though.
Your work expands you. You will be excited by what you learn and
you feel privileged to do what you do.” I do indeed feel both excited and privileged;
excited every day by the work that we do and privileged to be working with all of you.
It is a great privilege to be the Archivist of the United States, to be the custodian
of our most treasured documents and head of an important government agency with a unique
mission; to preserve the story of America and its people.
It is also a great privilege to work with such an accomplished, dedicated staff in 18
states and the District of Columbia. I want to thank all of you for your hard work
and passion in fulfilling the mission of the archives.
I also want to thank and recognize our partner, the Foundation for the National Archives,
for its generous support of our many public and educational programs and so much more.
The success of our innovative outreach programs is made possible by this support.
A very special thank you to our volunteers across the nation who help us in so many different
ways, you are an important part of the archives team.
You all helped make 2010 a good year. I am proud to say that I was able to meet
many of you this past year in my visits to 21 of our locations and I plan to see more
of you when I visit the other 23 in the year ahead.
This year I visited the National Personnel Records Centers – three locations in St.
Louis, the Carter Library and the two locations of our southeast region in the Atlanta area.
The Reagan and Nixon Libraries in the Regional Archives in San Bernardino in California,
the Kennedy Library in Boston as well as the northeast regions locations in Pittsfield
and New York City. The Libraries of President Roosevelt, Johnson,
Hoover and Clinton. The Federal Register and the staff at the
Washington National Record Center in Suitland, Rocket Center, West Virginia and lots of individual
offices and units in A1 and here in A2. I have had regular meetings with the National
Archives Assembly, the NARA African American Society and the union.
Most recently I participated in the ground breaking for the George W.
Bush Presidential Library in Dallas. In addition to learning the business of each
site I wanted to meet you and give you an opportunity to get to know me and share with
me your thoughts of what it’s like to work in this agency.
You are the people who deal with customers, who process records, who preserve and conserve
historic documents, who spend their days reviewing classified records, who respond to customer
reference requests, who physically move records from shelves to where they are needed and
who go the extra mile to dazzle our customers, other agencies and the public.
You are also the people who process our paychecks, manage our budget, order our supplies, let
our contracts, keep our facilities safe and operational and handle the myriad of other
tasks needed to carry out our mission. My time with you has been the most important
element of my education in the past year. I thank you for your honesty and your willingness
to tell it like it is. I got an ear full; in fact I got two ears
full. [laughter]
I heard that you like you work and take pride in it and being on the staff of an institution
like the National Archives. However, I heard some things that concern
me. Many of you feel that you have no voice, that
no one listens, in some cases you don’t always get recognized for the important role
your piece of the process brings to the overall mission of the agency.
You feel there is no way to advance in your jobs at the archives, that there are no career
ladders. As someone who started his life as a shelver
this is a particular concern to me. You feel remote, apart from what goes on in
the rest of the agency, not really part of the National Archives.
You are frustrated by having to use outdated computer hardware and software and by the
slowness and cumbersomeness of the procurement process and a fair number of you don’t even
have internet access. Your frustrations came through loudly and
clearly just as they did in the employee viewpoint survey released earlier this year and then
in the rankings of the best places to work in the federal government where NARA tied
for last in the rankings. Thanks to all of you who participated in the
survey. The upside is that we did set a new record
for participation. Thank you for that.
[laughter] Last place is not acceptable and I intend
to devote my energies to make this the best place to work in the federal government.
It became clear to me as I met with you and listened to our various stake holders that
the National Archives had an opportunity presented to us by the president of the government initiative
to transform ourselves; transform ourselves by rethinking what we do, how we do it, how
we treat each other and how we can provide better services to our customers, to instill
the open government principals of participation, collaboration and transparency in our value
system. As you know I appointed a small task force
on agency transformation this summer to come up with a plan to help the National Archives
better meet the needs of our customers and you the staff.
The task force delivered their report in September, a plan that calls for a major transformation
of this agency; not just a reorganization but new ways of doing things, thinking about
things and delivering services. The full report is available on NARA at work
and highlights are printed in the November issue of Declarations. The plans six transformations mapped directly
to the messages you delivered to me when we met.
We will work as one NARA. No matter where you are or what you do you
will have a stake in the success of the entire agency and everyone else will have a stake
in what you do. We will be out in front and embrace the primacy
of electronic information. We have been behind in this and we still are.
You need the most up to date IT tools and skills to perform you r jobs in the digital
age. As the agency responsible for devising the
federal government and the White House on the records implications of their IT initiatives
we need to be out in front, not lagging behind. We had for instance, a great opportunity to
develop innovative archival practices before records are even created.
We’ll foster our culture of leadership. We want you to take the lead in what you do.
You had a taste of that in your participation of a variety of idea scale activities asking
for your solutions to our problems. You all have ideas for how we can do things
better. We need to encourage the sharing of these
ideas and open our ears and eyes to new ways of doing our work.
You’ve already demonstrated that leadership can come from all levels of the staff.
We will transform our agency into a great place to work.
You are our most important resource. We want you to provide the best setting in
which you will do your work, support you with the training and technology needed to do your
work, provide career ladders for advancement and recognize your contributions.
We will create structures and processes so the staff can more effectively meet customer
needs. We’ll flatten the organization and let frontline
staff make decisions about satisfying customer’s needs.
We’ll measure success by evaluation outcomes not output.
And we will open our organizational boundaries to learn from others.
We’ll remove internal barriers to sharing information among ourselves, making it standard
operating procedure. We can learn a lot from volunteers, stake
holders, citizen archivists and ordinary customers and visitors.
We now have a transformation launch team hard at work on organization of values, action
items; these are quick wins and flushing out the new organization.
The team members will be looking to you for help.
I have given them a mid-January deadline because I don’t want to lose any momentum the plan
has created. If you have not done so already I urge you
to subscribe to the transformation website blog so that you can stay informed and take
an active role in this work. Even as we transform ourselves we need to
deal with the fiscal and political realities. In the coming years we will have to do our
job with fewer resources. Congress and the President are seeking to
balance the budget and reduce discretionary spending.
On Monday we notified you of the President’s proposed two-year salary freeze.
The fiscal situation means that we will likely have to make difficult choices among our programs
and services to customers. We look to you for suggestions in reductions
to our budget and I want to thank you, all of you who participated in our budget brainstorming
idea scale this summer. There were more than 20,000 votes and all
of your comments were considered. The budget reductions we decide on will be
made public when the President submits his proposed fiscal year 2010 budget to Congress
in February. Earlier this year the Peer Research Center
revealed that American’s continue to have a low opinion of government, they distrust
government, they are unhappy. There is a lot of discontent with Congress
and elected officials and all political, all of the political infighting.
Fewer people believe that government has all the solutions to our problems.
Here at the Archives we must be part of the government that works, the part the public
does trust and that does have solutions to their problems and answers to their questions.
And we do. Let me site some examples from recent years.
Last year Kenneth Sarner [spelled phonetically] was diagnosed with cancer about the time his
social security payments stopped because he could not prove he was a U.S.
citizen. Immigrations officials could not help so he
turned to our Pacific Region office in Riverside, California.
We quickly found a naturalization petition but it wasn’t good enough for social security.
NARA stepped in and explained that Kenneth didn’t have his own certificate because
he became a citizen when his father was naturalized. He had a derivative citizenship; the social
security payments were resumed. A man walked into our Waltham facility with
a letter dated May, 1946 recommending his dad for the Bronze Star.
The medal had never been awarded and the son wondered whether this was an oversight or
had the recommendation not been approved. Staff in St.
Louis made this case a priority and found additional documentation.
Through their efforts it was determined that he was entitled to the Bronze Star and just
two days after his 100th birthday and 63 years after the recommendation was written, in a
ceremony arranged by the staff at Waltham, local army officials presented Walter Pierce
[spelled phonetically] with a Bronze Star. In Alaska the granddaughter of an 88-year-old
Anchorage resident visited to obtain a certified copy of his 1958 divorce decree.
Prior to Alaska’s statehood in 1959 the U.S.
District Court handled divorce cases so the file was in federal hands.
Anchorage staff quickly found the final decree and made her day.
[laughter] Her grandfather was in the nursing home waiting
for proof of his divorce so he could remarry. [laughter]
An elderly army veteran from North Carolina had been trying for a number of years to get
his separation documents so he could receive medical benefits.
At the National Personnel Records Center in St.
Louis an expert technician on a records reconstruction team reviewed the request and was unable to
find any additional information to assist the veteran.
His records are believed to have been destroyed in the1973 fire.
So she arranged to interview the veteran over the phone.
He gave her enough information for her to search army organizational records.
She did and eventually was able to reconstruct the veteran’s service record.
These are great examples of how the National Archives helps people, how we are part of
the solution. That veteran from North Carolina was just
one of 100,000 cases handled last year by the records reconstruction teams as they reconstruct
military files damaged or destroyed in the 1973 fire.
These teams employ a variety of strategies so that a document certifying the veteran’s
service can be issued. Sometimes organizational records are used
and other times a staffer works with the veteran’s administration and state agencies to find
documents that help them reconstruct a veteran’s file.
A demand for these records increased during the fiscal year requiring NPRC to add two
additional correspondence teams. Overall our St.
Louis staff answered 1.42 million written requests in the last fiscal year; 95 percent
of NARA’s total written requests. That is just an example of the kind of work
we do at NARA, in all units and in all locations. You should be very proud of these accomplishments.
Looking back on 2010, it’s been a good year. Not only did we take our first steps towards
transformation, we also accomplished quite a bit.
We developed and are implementing an open government plan in concert with the president’s
directive for more participation, collaboration and transparency in government.
This is not very hard for us; after all we are in the access business.
We have always believed that citizens have a right to see, examine and learn from the
records we preserve on their behalf. The National Archives is off to a great start
in becoming a leader in social media and government. We now have 24 Facebook pages for every niche
interest. The flagship National Archives Facebook page
grows by 30 or more fans a day and now has nearly 10,000 of them.
We have eight blogs, including my own, that draw an audience of 7,000 every week.
We have a wiki hub for researchers. More than 1,200 of our historical videos are
now available on YouTube. They have been viewed by more than 300,000
times since the site was launched and we are now up to 1,500 a day.
Readers can now see our flagship publication Prologue through their mobile phone or iPad’s
and 7,000 of our photos available through Flickr have been viewed nearly 2 million times.
The electronic records archive now has almost 100 terabytes of information, mostly from
the Bush 43 Administration and a significant increase is expected next year.
A holdings protection team was established to prevent losses of valuable records and
the senior staff and I are reviewing options to enhance security even more.
Theft of records, especially by staff members, tarnishes the reputation of all of us on the
staff who do all we can to preserve and protect the records.
We will be rolling out new screening procedures in the weeks ahead and I want you to know
how seriously I take this. This in fact is the first place I have worked
where my own briefcase was not checked each night when I left the building.
The Office of Inspector General has kept us on the straight and narrow providing us with
crucial assessments and recommendations for improving how we conduct our business.
The archival recovery team monitors the internet tradeshows and other sales venues to recover
stolen property. I encourage you to keep up with their work
on their Facebook page. If you see something suspicious report it.
We continue to strengthen our leadership role in government classification and declassification
in providing the widest possible access to government records.
Our National Declassification Center is beginning to eliminate the backlog of 400 million pages
of classified documents by developing methods to streamline the processing and getting these
records declassified and on the shelves for researchers as quickly as possible.
The Information Security Oversight Office began enforcing several new Presidential orders
that reform the ways that classified or sensitive information is managed.
This included the establishment of the Controlled Unclassified Information Office within ISOO.
work to digitize traditional records made great progress this year.
We are digitizing the entire 1940 census in preparation for its April, 2012 opening.
At the same time we continue to work with private partners and volunteers who have already
digitized millions of pages of records to make them available in ways unimaginable just
a few short years ago. Among the latest records now available or
becoming available are those relating to the Civil War, the Holocaust and the Vietnam War.
We recently accepted into our holdings one of the most important and notorious documents
of the 20th century, the Nuremberg Laws signed by Hitler himself.
They legalized the persecution of Jews in Germany eventually leading to the Holocaust.
We launched Federal Register 2.0 as the government’s daily newspaper website.
Now the register reaches out to citizens and gives them the tools that 21st century readers
have come to expect. This website is an important part of how we
are responding to the President’s open government call.
The agency won the White House’s Lean, Clean and Green Award for our College Park facility
where we have reduced annual energy usage by 24 billion BTUs, enough energy to heat
300,000 homes each year. We have also trimmed 2,000 tons of carbon
emissions, enough to fuel 500 cars for a year and we plan to improve our footprint even
more in the years ahead. Our records management staff took the first
steps toward bringing together records managers and IT staff in agencies across the government
to ensure that records now at risk in agencies and departments are properly managed.
We are also issued records management guidance on social media, further demonstrating NARA’s
leadership in IT issues facing the government today.
This year we opened an ambitious two- part exhibit, “Discovering the Civil War” to
commemorate its 150th anniversary. It draws on the vast records we have of the
Civil War to open a fresh perspective even 150 years, after 150 years of discussion and
debate. This intriguing exhibit is the first one built
by NARA to feature multiple interactive experiences. In two exhibits in the regions, “Deadly
Medicine” in Kansas City and “Documented Rights” in Atlanta set attendance records
for the regional facilities. Our sixth annual Genealogy Fair in Washington
drew a record 2,500 visitors in two days. Meanwhile the Regional Archives began accessioning
two prominent and long anticipated personal data series dealing with case files on aliens
and railroad retirees. We launched on the internet another tool for
teachers to use to engage students in the study of history, “Docs Teach”, with 3,000
of our records in the current product.
We completed the move of no classified records
from President Nixon’s administration to the Nixon Library in California.
We are processing records of presidential libraries much faster, up 49 percent at Reagan,
62 at Bush I and 178 percent at Clinton. We broke ground, as I said, for the George
W. Bush Presidential Library at the new building
for the National Personnel Records Center in St.
Louis. We recognize those individuals who mine our
records and find things we don’t know with our new Citizen Archivist Program.
We are launching a new, cleaner, easier to navigate version of our website,
We became partners with the University of Virginia Press to develop a full featured
website hosted by us with all the papers of the six most prominent founding fathers.
This will provide access to millions of pages of their writings.
The Clinton Library produced and posted on the internet 170,000 pages of records, pertaining
to Elena Kagan upon her nomination to the Supreme Court setting a new record for us.
At the Federal Records Centers revenue exceeded expenses this year by $5 million, the largest
amount in their 11-year history. This income will help NARA accumulate capital
to pay the huge costs for facility upgrades and moves at St.
Louis and Suitland. We continue to play an international role.
I spoke to archival groups in Oslo, Norway; Sulfia, Bulgaria and Ottawa, Canada.
We hosted visitors from nearly two dozen countries. Through the State Department we are assisting
South Africa with the digitization of Nelson Mandela’s personal papers.
And finally we have wireless in A1 and A2. Thanks to the Foundation for the National
Archives for their support of this project. So some of you are probably now asking if
we are so successful in so many areas in this past year why do we need the transformation?
Isn’t this just putting people in new boxes on a new chart?
The answer is, simply we can’t afford not to do it.
When the employees don’t think highly of their employer, their work suffers.
We can’t afford to let this happen given our unique role in government and the trust
that the American people have in us. Satisfied employees are important.
That means empowering individuals to make frontline and on the ground decisions in their
areas of responsibility when dealing with projects or customers.
It also means letting ideas bubble up from the staff instead of being handed down from
on high. It means creating a work environment and organization
of interdependency, one that makes each of us feel we have a stake in the success of
the entire agency and everyone else has a stake in our own personal success.
My email to you yesterday asked for your participation in developing the agencies organizational
values. I urge you to join the conversation so these
values truly reflect the aspirations of the staff.
What kind of workplace do you want to work in?
This is your opportunity to have your voice heard.
Creating a new culture won’t happen overnight but there is an urgency that demands that
we move quickly. We must create a new National Archives that
will flourish and be an important part of our democracy in the 21st century, and I look
forward to working with every single one of you to make that happen.
Thank you. [end of transcript]

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