July 22, 2004
Although the Society of American Archivists (SAA) would have preferred a process in which we were permitted to testify at the hearing regarding the appointment of Allen Weinstein to become the next Archivist of the United States, we thank the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs for the opportunity to comment. The choice of a qualified nominee to become the Archivist of the United States is an important decision that ultimately benefits all Americans by ensuring that our history will be preserved and that our citizens will be able to hold their government accountable for its actions and decisions through the careful and impartial management of the records of government.
To that end, we express our intent to cooperate with Professor Weinstein and to work with him if he is appointed Archivist of the United States.
However, we also wish to convey again the strong reservations that the Society of American Archivists and thirty other archives, history, and library organizations have expressed about the manner in which this nomination was made. As noted in a Statement developed by SAA, the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators, and the Council of State Historical Records Coordinators (issued shortly after the April 8, 2004, announcement of Professor Weinstein’s nomination), Congress created the National Archives and Records Administration—and the position of Archivist of the United States—to be both independent and non-partisan. In the National Archives Act (Public Law 98-497), Congress intended that filling the position of Archivist of the United States should involve an open process, with consultation with appropriate professional organizations that could speak from knowledge and experience concerning the qualifications of nominees. Attached are copies of the “Statement on the Nomination of Allen Weinstein to Become Archivist of the United States”(including the names of the organizations that supported it), as well as “Joint Statement on Selection Criteria for the Archivist of the United States” and “Joint Statement on Questions to Ask the Nominee for Archivist of the United States.” We ask that these documents be entered into the permanent record of these hearings.
It is our view that this nomination was undertaken outside both the letter and the spirit of the law. We believe that the evidence is clear that the White House effectively removed John Carlin when it asked him for a letter of resignation in December 2003 after having already identified a replacement in the fall of that year. It is within the power of the President to remove the Archivist, but if he takes this action, the law calls for him to provide Congress with an explanation of his reasons for doing so. To date, no such explanation has been provided. We hope that the Committee will ask the White House to fulfill its obligation under the law rather than create another precedent that erodes the power and authority of the United States Congress.
We also hope that the Committee will begin working with interested professional associations to establish a more formal procedure that can be used for future nominations. Development in advance of a list of qualifications and other considerations would make the process smoother and ensure that the Archivist position does not become politicized.
Let us be clear: We do not believe that the manner in which the nomination has been handled reflects negatively on Professor Weinstein or his interest in this position. But we do believe that the failure to follow the process outlined in law threatens the tradition of independence and non-partisanship that enables the Archivist of the United States to fulfill his obligations effectively to the benefit of all Americans.
We offer Professor Weinstein our best wishes and our hand of friendship and cooperation. Should he be appointed, the Society of American Archivists and other professional organizations that have an interest in his work will do everything in our power to support him in leading the National Archives and Records Administration, to offer advice and counsel if he requests it, to share our expertise and experience with him, and, if necessary, to make every effort to ensure that he is treated better by future administrations than his predecessor has been by this one.
Timothy L. Ericson, President, on behalf of
The Society of American Archivists
527 South Wells Street, Fifth Floor
Chicago, Illinois 60607
Joint Statement on Selection Criteria for the Archivist of the United States (August 26, 2004)
Joint Statement on Questions to Ask the Nominee for Archivist of the United States (August 26, 2004)
Statement on the Nomination of Allen Weinstein to Become Archivist of the United States (April 14, 2004)