A Response from the National Archives

David S. Ferriero is the Archivist of the United States.


Matthew Connelly’s thoughtful essay describes many of the major challenges we face at the National Archives, as we continue to transition from an analog to a digital archives while struggling to make the most of the limited resources available to us. He clearly understands how important our work is to the function of our democracy and to the preservation of our nation’s heritage. We take our mission very seriously and, despite the challenges outlined in the essay, are doing all we can to preserve and provide access to all the records in our holdings.

We launched a new strategic plan earlier this year to guide our work and to drive change across all of the Federal Government. By 2020, we will have policies and processes in place to support Federal agencies’ transition to fully electronic recordkeeping. By December 31, 2022, we will, to the fullest extent possible, no longer accept transfers of permanent or temporary records in analog formats and will accept records only in electronic format and with appropriate metadata. I am very happy to say that this strategic goal was endorsed by the President’s reform plan, “Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century,” and that our reform proposal, “Transition to Electronic Government,” was included in the President’s plan.

Our strategic plan’s other goals include processing 82 percent of our holdings to enable discovery and access by the public by 2021; digitizing 500 million pages of records and making them available online by 2024; providing digital, next-generation finding aids to 95 percent of our holdings by 2025; and having one million records enhanced by citizen contributions in our online catalog by 2025.

To achieve these goals, we are recruiting a data scientist to help us cope with the challenges and make the most of the opportunities presented by “Big Data.” This person will help us create connections between disparate sets of data, enabling faster, easier, and more efficient search of our holdings. The data scientist will be focused both internally and externally, looking out across the totality of our data and finding better ways to make it available and put it to work. These efforts will allow us to leverage data to provide better access to our records for the American people and simultaneously improve our business processes to provide improved customer service. This is one example of how we are building our future through our people so that we can meet our goals to make access happen, connect with customers, and maximize our value to the nation, as outlined in our strategic plan. The entire plan is available online at archives.gov.

On the topic of secrecy, the National Archives remains firmly committed to providing the fullest possible access to declassified government records, while vigilantly safeguarding information that is not yet appropriate for release. In addition, our Information Security Oversight Office leads the government’s efforts to oversee the management of classified and controlled unclassified information. We provide staff support to the Public Interest Declassification Board, which advises the President on issues pertaining to national classification and declassification policy, and also to the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel, which provides a forum for further review of classification decisions for the public as well as users of the classification system.

Regarding the issue of archival neglect, we take our responsibilities seriously and are vigilant to ensure that government agencies are meeting their recordkeeping requirements. We take quick action when we see examples that concern us, working within the framework of the Presidential and Federal Records Acts.

Finally, on the topic of our funding levels, we agree that the country would be well served to invest in its National Archives and in the care of its federal government records. However, we understand that every presidential administration attempts to make the most effective use of available funds in proposed budgets, and that hard decisions must always be made during budget negotiations in Congress. As we have always done, we will continue to do the very best we can with the resources that we are given.

Professor Connelly’s analysis and recommendations are thought-provoking and well informed. I commend him for taking on some tough topics and providing cogent arguments. I look forward to seeing the discussions that I am sure will be sparked by his essay. And we very much welcome everyone to come visit the National Archives Building on the Mall in Washington, DC, where you can see the very faded original Declaration of Independence, but also the very legible Constitution and Bill of Rights.