About the National Archives

Prepared remarks of Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero at the Department of the Treasury, Washington, D.C.

April 1, 2010

Who is the Archivist?

David S. Ferriero
David S. Ferriero The Archivist of the United States is the head of our agency, appointed by the President of the United States.

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What's an Archivist?

(The Archivist was introduced by Dan Tangherlini, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Management and Chief Financial Officer.)

Thank you, Dan, for that kind introduction.

I was particularly pleased to accept today’s request to meet with you because of my own personal encounter with Alexander Hamilton. As the Director of the New York Public Libraries, my office was just a couple of blocks up Fifth Avenue from the Bank of New York. The President of the bank was a Duke grad and library donor whom I visited often when I was the University Librarian at Duke. I particularly enjoyed the visits because of the extraordinary collection of Alexander Hamilton archival material on display in the executive suite.

In June of 1784, just months after the departure of British troops, Alexander Hamilton helped found the Bank of New York, the first bank in the City of New York. Capitalized not on land, as was the custom, but on specie—money in coin.

In 1789, as you all know, Hamilton was appointed the first Secretary of the Treasury in Washington’s Cabinet. In the same year, as Secretary, Hamilton negotiated the first loan obtained by the new government—with the Bank of New York—for $200,000.

Many of the treasures in the collection there document his role in founding the bank and in the loan negotiation.

So, it is a special pleasure to be here at the Treasury Department, one of the original cabinet departments and one that is so vital to our democracy and to our economy.

Ten years ago, then-Deputy Archivist Lewis Bellardo addressed a Treasury audience whose department’s records management program was besieged by numerous lawsuits. Records schedules dated from the 1980s, and the Department couldn’t find records to respond to subpoenas, Congressional committees, and Freedom of Information Act requests.

As we all know, a decade later that has changed. This morning, it’s my pleasure to address a Treasury audience whose department’s records management program is one of the leaders in the Federal government.

In fact, we at the Archives were pleased over the past decade to have recognized the great strides this department has made in records management, with the presentation of four Archivist Achievement Awards. They went to the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the Office of the Chief Information Officer, the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Internal Revenue Service.

I wanted to take note of this progress right away because good records management is the key to the long-term success of the "Open Government" initiative.

As you all know, President Obama late last year issued a directive on open government. It calls on those of us in Government to create a culture of transparency, participation, and collaboration in and among federal agencies.

The goal— Transforming the relationship between the government and the people.

I want to talk about the National Archives’ Open Government plan, but first a few remarks about records management.

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Records are important. They are necessary to document and protect the rights of our citizens and to hold government officials accountable for their actions. But in a more open government, there can be no accountability if the Government does not preserve—and cannot find—its records.

Our role at NARA is to preserve the records that have permanent value. We help agencies manage their records to meet their business needs and to ensure that the records of historical value are in good order when they are transferred to us.

Without good records management, it is impossible for the public to know and understand what the government is doing and impossible for the present to inform the future.

Heads of agencies and senior leaders across the Federal Government need to understand that the records and information they and their organizations are creating are national assets that must be effectively managed and secured.

For starters, it is required by law in the Federal Records Act. But effective records management — adequate and proper documentation of the Federal Government’s activities and transactions — is good government and a necessary condition of an Open Government.

It’s important for Federal agencies themselves to create and manage their records economically and effectively long enough and in a usable format to meet various needs. And the agencies, along with the Archives, must ensure that records of archival value are preserved and made available for future generations.

It is our experience that agencies do a good job of documenting their transactions like grants, litigation, and contracts. But documenting high level policy decisions is much more problematic.

It is up to you here today to ensure that high level decisions and policies made at the Department of the Treasury are documented and preserved—not only for open government, accountability, and institutional knowledge, but for the historical record of this Administration and of our nation.

Records being created today are electronic records, and they pose different problems and challenges. Essential to managing these electronic records is developing cost-effective management tools that work, then integrating them into agency IT systems. NARA will strengthen its leadership role by finding and developing cost-effective IT solutions needed to meet the electronic records management challenges of today and the future.

Just this past year, the Department of the Treasury completed 100 percent of its scheduling requirements under Section 207(e) of the E-Government Act of 2002, and the Department continues to schedule electronic records.

By implementing records schedules, Treasury also insures that records are preserved for business use by the Department. Schedules are the primary tool to help Treasury control and manage its records. Over the past few years Treasury records officers and managers have worked with the appraisal and scheduling staff at NARA to schedule nearly 1,000 electronic information systems.

The statutory authority to grant Federal agencies disposition authority to manage their permanent and temporary records is the most important responsibility I exercise as Archivist of the United States. That’s because it determines what records will come to the National Archives for preservation and access by future generations.

However, across government today, agencies are not doing an effective enough job managing records and other information assets. And that is some cause for concern, for it means that there is much to do across government.

Last summer NARA required all Federal agencies to perform a self-assessment of their records management programs. Preliminary analysis of the self-assessment data from federal agencies suggests that about four out of five reporting agencies have moderate to high levels of risk associated with their records management programs, particularly with their management of electronic records.

Here at Treasury, I’m pleased to say, the picture is different. The data we received from Treasury indicates that the Department of the Treasury and its bureaus and services averaged a score of 70 percent in managing electronic records and a 70 percent in managing electronic mail.

A report on these agency assessments will be available this month. Treasury’s scores are very good compared to much of the government, but we have a lot still to do. As we move to cloud computing, social media, and other technologies to make government business faster and more efficient, the record keeping implications grow as well. How will we capture this information?

The Federal Government spends more than $70 Billion annually on information technology. Most —if not all—of the IT systems create or receive Federal records in some form.

Developing cost effective electronic records management tools that work — then integrating them into agency IT systems — is essential for managing records to do agency business and for government accountability and transparency.

Today, most agencies develop IT systems without thinking about records so later agencies go back and spend more money to capture, preserve, and provide access to the records. Or --- the records are simply lost and cannot be used over time. Neither option is good government.

Fortunately, here at Treasury, the IRS serves as a model for the inclusion of records management in the development of information systems.

In 2004, IRS records management was included in the Capital Planning and Investment Control process. Then in 2007, the IRS instituted the Center for Excellence in Document and Records Management. It provides a vetting body to ensure compliance with all records, privacy, security, legal, and disclosure requirements in the design and engineering of IT systems.

Including records management experts in the design and development of information systems is a best practice that NARA supports. It saves agencies the time and money in searching, storing, and preserving information for Government use and for future generations.

* * * * * * *

As I mentioned earlier, good records management is the backbone to open government, but there is so much more. The goals of the President’s open government directive are, to a great extent, already embedded in the mission statement and strategic goals of our agency. It reads:

The National Archives and Records Administration serves American democracy by safeguarding and preserving the records of our Government, ensuring that the people can discover, use, and learn from this documentary heritage. We ensure continuing access to the essential documentation of the rights of American citizens and the actions of their government. We support democracy, promote civic education, and facilitate historical understanding of our national experience.

In this digital age, however, we must do more. This will involve a real change for our 75-year-old agency.

In his call for transparency and open government, the President said that it will "strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government."

Open Government is also fundamentally about the public’s access to government records.

At NARA, we plan to leverage the power of the Internet to make our records more easily available, as well as improve our engagement with employees and the public so they can better take advantage of the resources we have to access and make use of those records.

We are redesigning our public web site, www.Archives.gov, to maximize public participation as well as develop streamlined search capabilities. The intent is for our entire website, as well as access to our holdings online, to be a user-focused community experience.

We are seeking employee engagement through blogs, webinars and other social media tools to allow greater communication among our staff and management located at 44 NARA locations in 21 states and the District of Columbia.

We are going beyond www.Archives.gov to reach users where they are. We are doing that by seeking online public engagement through social media tools like Facebook, Flickr, Youtube, and Twitter.

We are publishing high value datasets on Data.gov. These raw data sets allow the public to take government information and create new interfaces or online experiences. We are eager to see what will be produced by unleashing public innovation on these datasets.

We have created an "Open Government" web page, www.archives.gov/open, that serves as the portal for open government activities at the National Archives. Next Wednesday (April 7), our Open Government Plan will be made available at that web address, where there will be opportunities for the public to provide feedback.

In addition, we are providing Open Government leadership to other Federal agencies.

Our new Office of Government Information Services provides services to mediate disputes between Freedom of Information Act requestors and Federal Agencies, as well as providing guidance for agencies in dealing with FOIA aspects of the Open Government Directive.

Our new National Declassification Center has taken the leadership role in streamlining the declassification process throughout the federal government, as well as eliminating the backlog of 400 million pages of classified records. Some of these records pertain to military operations in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War—all of which are of great interest to historians.

* * * * * * * *

The President’s Open Government Directive is an initiative I fully support. It strengthens our democracy, as well as the mission of the National Archives. I expect the principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration to change the way we do things . . . the way we think about things. . . and the way we deliver services to the public.

Given that the central values of Open Government are transparency, citizen participation, and collaboration, and that records management is the backbone of Open Government, the central question is:

What is needed to ensure that the Open Government values are realized?

Open government, accountable to the people, requires open records, accessible to the people, now, and in the years to come. Records document the legitimacy of a government. Records document whatever legal standing, rights, and entitlements the citizens of a country have.

That includes records from this department. NARA has the records of the Secretary of the Treasury dating back to the department’s beginning in 1789. Some of the most popular records used by researchers are the records of the Comptroller of the Currency from the Great Depression, 20th century records of the Secretary, and the records on coins and medals from the Bureau of the Mint.

The Department of the Treasury faces many challenges today and in the future. Records management is not one of the challenges but is, in fact, one of the solutions. Records management has to be used as a tool to minimize risk and to maximize Treasury’s use of electronic methods to obtain, send, store, access, and use information, while protecting privacy, confidentiality, and the rights and interests of the American people.

Three hundred years ago the Governor of Maryland admonished the colonial government to "secure the Laws and records of the Country, for the Advantage and quiet of future Generations."

Record keeping has become much more complex today, but we also owe it to future generations to find technological solutions to preserve the records of today’s government. Together NARA and Federal agencies will be able to find these solutions, but it will only happen with your support and the support of your counterparts across the government.

It’s possible that the first secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, inspired the Open Government movement. As one of the authors of the Constitution, Hamilton served on a "Committee of Style" that wrote the Preamble to the Constitution, which begins, as every school child knows, with:

"We the People."

Those three words, better than any others, capture the essence of the democracy we have and one that we will continue to nurture in a culture of transparency, participation, and collaboration that are the keystones of Open Government.

Thank you for having me here today.

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