February 4, 1998
National Archives and Records Administration Will Reappraise Okinawa Films
Washington, DC - Archivist of the United States John W. Carlin today announced that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) will reappraise the value of a group of Army films that NARA had intended to donate to the government of Okinawa. The reappraisal is in response to the finding of a federal district court that NARAís previous appraisal decision, while not necessarily erroneous, should be set aside because of a factual error in appraisal papers concerning dates covered by the films.
The opinion came from Judge T.S. Ellis III of the Federal District Court of the Eastern District of Virginia in a lawsuit brought by Ms. Seiko Green in February 1997. The suit involved motion picture films that in the early 1970's were transferred to NARA from the U.S. Army force administering the Ryukyu Islands. In 1995-96, NARA's Motion Picture, Sound and Video Branch reappraised these films and recommended that they not be retained because they lacked permanent value to the U.S. Government. Accordingly, the films were authorized for disposal on July 9, 1996. Shortly thereafter, the archives of the government of the prefecture of Okinawa (part of the Ryukyu Islands), expressed interest in the films. On January 27, 1997, arrangements were made to donate the films to that facility by deed of gift.
The plaintiff, who has had access to the films under the Freedom of Information Act since June 1996, asked the Court to void the deed of gift, contending that NARA's notice to the public of the disposal recommendation was inadequate, that she had a right to continued access to the films under the Freedom of Information Act, and that NARA's disposal recommendation was based on an inadequate reappraisal process. On September 2, 1997, the presiding judge ruled against Ms. Green on the first two contentions, declaring that NARA's notice was adequate to inform the interested public and that NARA had met all its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act.
In todayís ruling on the third issue, the court found in favor of the plaintiff. The judge took note that many of the appraisal papers misstated the dates of the films as 1944-1961 when in fact the collection also includes films dated into the 1970's, and on that ground set aside the appraisal decision as "based on an erroneous factual premise." The court added: "Nothing in this opinion or in the accompanying order should be construed as intimating any view on whether the RG-260 collection should be retained by NARA . . . . The disposal decision remains a matter committed to NARAís sound discretion under the DRA [Disposal of Records Act]."
Archivist Carlin committed NARA to a full reappraisal of the recordsí value. "One of the most important services we perform for the nation," Mr. Carlin said, "is to exercise professional judgment about which records are valuable enough to be permanently retained at the taxpayersí expense and which are not. Only some of the millions of records generated by federal officials every year, including visual as well as textual records, meet the tests of permanent value. We concluded that these films did not. The courtís opinion prevents our proceeding to donate the films to the new home we had found for them. But we will respect the courtís opinion by giving them a fresh evaluation, and as before we will ensure that all interested parties have an opportunity to comment."
For additional PRESS information, please contact the National Archives Public Affairs staff at (301) 837-1700 or by e-mail.