The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 8, Number 6
Dec 1984

Archives Becomes Independent

On the evening of October 19th the President signed P.L. 98-497, which creates the National Archives and Records Administration, an independent agency to be led by an Archivist appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Wearing T-shirts and buttons with the words "National Archives -Free at Last," the supporters of independence gave great sighs of relief, because the deadline for signing was little more than 24 hours away. Although there was some talk of the President going to the Archives for a special signing ceremony, these plans did not materialize.

The National Archives was established as an independent agency in 1934. In 1949, it was incorporated into the newly-established General Services Administration (GSA) at the recommendation of the first Hoover Commission. During recent years the Archivist's lack of authority over budget, program priorities and personnel management has seriously handicapped the National Archives in fulfilling its basic mission of acquiring, appraising, preserving, and servicing the records of the federal government.

The National Archives and Records Administration Act of 1984 becomes effective April 1, 1985. It transfers all archival authorities from the GSA Administrator to the Archivist of the United States. It does not, however, expand these authorities. Records management functions will continue to be shared by the Administrator and the Archivist.

On October 18, Dr. Robert M. Warner announced his resignation as Archivist of the United States, effective on April 15, 1985. After overseeing the transition period at the Archives, Dr. Warner will return to the University of Michigan to become Dean of the School of Library Science. Dr. Warner has been an extremely effective advocate for liberating the Archives, and his efforts were critically important to the success of the independence movement. He has guided the Archives through a difficult period.

The Coalition to Save our Documentary Heritage, and the National Coordinating Committee f or the Promotion of History, which rallied support for the cause, will be looking for ways for the historical/archival/library community to have input into the process of selecting a new archivist. They will be stressing the importance of not politicizing the position and of appointing a qualified individual.

The following statement was issued by Archivist Robert N. Warner. It has been shortened slightly for the Newsletter:

"This law represents the culmination of the cooperative efforts of many constituencies. Historians, archivists, state records officials, genealogists, and other users of the National Archives have worked tirelessly over the years to express their concerns shout the need for independence of the National Archives.

"We are also in debt to this Administration and to the many Members of Congress and their staffs who worked for this legislation. This truly bipartisan support gives the new National Archives the mandate it needs to move ahead with its central mission: the preservation and availability of this nation's documentary heritage. We are particularly grateful to Senators Thomas Eagleton, Mark Hatfield, and Charles Mathias, and Representatives Jack Brooks, Glen English, and Frank Horton for their unstinting support.

"The proper preservation of the unique and accurate historical record of a nation is an issue of public policy which concerns every citizen. To operate effectively, the national recordkeeper of any country must have both independence and integrity. This new law will enable the National Archives of the United States to function with the organizational and administrative tools essential to its mission.

"Other countries look to the National Archives of the United States for innovation and leadership; the American people look to the National Archives fur a full, accurate, and accessible record of their government from 1774 to the present. The new independent National Archives and Records Administration, with the continued support of those who have worked for the passage of this bill, plans to meet these expectations."

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