November 19, 1997
U.S. Archivist Investigates Disposal of Naval Laboratory Records
Washington, DC -- Archivist of the United States John Carlin today ordered an investigation into the recent disposal of naval laboratory records that the Office of Naval Research believes to have been of historical value.
"I have just received a letter from the Office of Naval Research," said Mr. Carlin, "informing me that long-standing evaluation standards and disposition procedures used by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to deal with naval research records have not prevented the destruction of a historically important body of notebooks, correspondence, and technical memoranda from the Naval Research Laboratory. If this is true, we will change applicable procedures to prevent any further loss.
"Our new Strategic Plan," Mr. Carlin continued, "calls for a thorough review of NARA’s overall appraisal procedures, many of which were established long ago. But because this case needs quick attention, I have assigned my deputy, veteran archivist Lewis Bellardo, to head an immediate investigation."
Mr. Carlin explained that the records in question were destroyed by the Washington National Records Center in Suitland, Maryland, following procedures established years ago for evaluating naval laboratory records. Archivists appraised the records in question and other Navy research material after consultation with Navy officials, including the staff of the Office of the Chief of Naval Research and the archivist of the Naval Research Laboratory. Certain records were appraised as of "permanent" value and others, such as "informal laboratory notebooks containing technical data which is routine, fragmentary, or essentially duplicated in technical reports and papers," were not. Because the material in question was not believed to meet the tests for permanent value, it was scheduled to be destroyed. Ninety days in advance of the scheduled time for disposal of the records, the National Archives and Records Administration sent notice proposing the disposal to the Navy records manager, in accordance with established procedure. Though the Navy responded to other notices that came with this one, it raised no objection to carrying out the scheduled disposal of the laboratory material.
"If the process is flawed, or the evaluation criteria are inadequate, then obviously the situation must be fixed," Mr. Carlin said. "I will be grateful for the Navy’s cooperation in determining where the problem lies so that together we can take appropriate action. And I will report publicly on the outcome of the investigation to all concerned."
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