In December, a document outlining Recommendations on Federal Archives and Records Management Issues was submitted to the Trump Presidential Transition Team by the Council of State Archivists (CoSA), the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators (NAGARA), the Regional Archival Associations Consortium (RAAC), and the Society of American Archivists (SAA). The document was authored by the CoSA/NAGARA/SAA/RAAC Joint Working Group on Issues and Awareness. Chris Burns, SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) representative to the Joint Working Group, interviewed three of the primary authors of this document, Jim Corridan (Indiana Archives & Records Administration), Dennis Riley (New York State Archives), and Barbara Teague (Kentucky State Archives, retired), to talk about the document and its importance as a policy, advocacy, education, and awareness tool.
Where did the idea of this document come from? Have there been similar efforts in the past?
Barbara Teague: – There was a jointly authored transition document in 2008, that was primarily focused on criteria for a new Archivist of the United States but also addressed other issues of importance. Back then there was a meeting of CoSA, NAGARA, SAA representatives with two people from the Obama transition team. This year, Dennis Riley and Kathleen Roe did an initial draft , starting from that 2008 document. However, some of the issues in the 2008 document were focused on issues in the Bush administration.
Dennis Riley: We started with the 2008 position paper and tried to reframe it and make it more applicable to 2016. We looked at SAA issue briefs and joint statements from the Joint Working Group that had been released and picked out issues that might fit here. We put a lot into the first draft, and then the group edited it down. Funding issues are perennial issues, so those were easy to put into the draft. We took a broad approach in the initial draft.
Jim Corridan: NARA has caught up on declassification in a big way since 2008. Great strides were made in many ways in the last 8 years. Records management compliance and statutory responsibility continue to show improvement, so we didn’t have to talk about this as much as in 2008.
Dennis: The 2008 document focused on specific problems. The 2016 one is a broader approach, addressing common issues that any administration should be aware of: adequate funding, adequate resources for NARA/NHPRC, etc., the necessity of good record keeping by public officials. It is less about legacy issues from the previous administration.
Jim: A new issue was the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership). SAA has opposed the copyright provision in the TPP, so we included that, as well as the importance of government officials using government email to do government business.
Why was it important to write this and pass it on to the Trump transition team?
Barbara: It wasn’t requested, because transition teams look at the big agencies, they don’t necessarily look at archives issues. It is always a good idea to take the chance to emphasize the importance of archives and records management in government. With this administration, there are going to be a lot of people who hadn’t been in government before. The goal was to make ourselves and our expertise available.
Jim: It is an education piece as well as policy, to assist those new to office in understanding the role of government records
Dennis: No one else is going to speak on behalf of these issues if archivists do not. As a government archivist, I believe the foundation of good government begins with good records and archival practice. How many officials at all levels keep getting tripped up by poor email habits? This is an opportunity to educate those in government or coming into government about their responsibilities. We, as representatives of archival agencies, have a responsibility to say something, and to say it often. Other lobbying groups are pushing their agendas, we need to push ours.
Barbara: It is an advocacy and awareness tool. It has been published on all our websites, as well as passed along to the transition team. We are also planning to share it widely, as part of a greater conversation about how government record keeping is central to our democracy.
What is the value of having the document come from all four organizations?
Dennis: The more consensus we have as professional representatives, the better. Agreement that these are the core issues that are important and important to our members adds weight to the final product.
Barbara: It comes out of our joint working group, having more statements come through that group helps gets all of the organizations on the same page, thinking about common issues. The group is only three years old, and we are still learning our role as a group, when to do a joint statement and when to do a statement from an individual organization.
How did you make decisions about what to include in the document?
Jim: Dennis did a great job of starting with that 2008 version that we sent to the Obama Transition Team. We added current issues and other things that were missing, and deleted information that was no longer relevant, as we refined the the document. We benefited from input from our Joint Working Group, as well as the CoSA and NAGARA boards, SAA Council, and the RAAC Steering Committee.
Dennis: There was some difficulty discovering relevant background information that was available online, whether it has to do with funding (what are the challenges), or declassification (what is the status).
Jim: At one point, there were two sections that were extraordinarily long. We had to think about the audience, not as archivists. A transition team member or transition staffer who may not make it through the first page is the likely audience.
Barbara: The Joint Working Group group is fairly new, and we learn a little more with each new document. We will come out of this most recent joint statement with a more clearly defined process for working more quickly on completing joint statements.
Dennis: This was an opportunity for the organizations to figure out how to communicate in a cooperative way.
Barbara: RAAC (Regional Archival Associations Consortium) brought a new perspective, as a recent addition to the Joint Working Group
What are a few of the highlights?
Dennis: The Executive Summary was more of a CoSA product. The original draft of the Executive Summary had a couple of bullet points but came back from CoSA in a less rough state.
Jim: In it, we succinctly say what we’re hoping to accomplish. Set the premise for each of the things we think are important.
Barbara: If something did pique their interest, there is a table of contents, so they could quickly get to that section.
What do you think a document like this can accomplish?
Jim: Educating the transition team and advisers. Maybe more importantly, we intend to send this to the Congressional committees that have oversight over NARA. It might prompt some support for particular issues. It will be more broadly utilized.
Dennis: This is just the beginning of making use of this document. It’s a public policy agenda for the next four years. These are the important issues. We should exercise the voice that we have. If we don’t speak up, we definitely won’t have an impact.
Jim: It is important to try to set a positive and proactive agenda with the administration.
Barbara: We always need to educate any President that’s coming in. Not all of our members are familiar with these issues, so this is a good education tool showing concerns and positions to all members of these organizations that they can use as needed. Any archivist around the country can use this in discussing public policy issues
Dennis: We started the drafting process a month before the election.
Jim: The only substantive change was that it was addressed to Trump and not Clinton. We see this as a constructive engagement with the administration.
Since this blog is focused on raising the awareness of archives, how do you think this document does that and could it serve as a model for communicating about archival priorities in other settings?
Barbara: It is a really good model for state government, I doubt most state archivists use a written transition briefing when a new governor is elected. We generally have meetings, and focus more on face to face, as opposed to sending something written, since we have access to state officials. State and local governments could use this as a model, to get important government issues before newly elected officials.
Dennis: This sets a tradition, since we have done this formally for two transitions now, in 2008 and 2016. It lay groundwork and expectation that this is what we as professional organizations need to do. It is an opportunity to engage with elected officials and to ensure that archival and records management issues don’t get lost in the transition. It is also an example of what our group members could be doing with elections at every level. How are we, as individual members, engaging our elected officials? Do I as an individual member feel empowered to send this to my newly elected representative? We are organizations of members. As such, members need to feel empowered to use this product to engage with their representatives.
Barbara: We didn’t do much with the 2008 document. We could use this as a tracking document to see how things are progressing, to follow the archives and records management agenda
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Barbara: Nancy Beaumont is the one who pulled the document together at the end. She never lets us compliment her (don’t let her edit out a compliment again!), but she does a great job keeping everyone on track, while helping us keep the big picture in mind.