Cass Sunstein, former Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, in his new book, Simpler, shares the three most important things he learned during his time in the White House.
“People stop making some important mistakes when they speak in a foreign language.” Citing the example of cost-benefit analysis as a foreign language, he described it as a great “engine of simplification” by displacing intuitions and counteracting hysteria-forcing people unfamiliar with the language to slow down and act deliberately. This makes me wonder about the “foreign language(s)” we are using in our work and, therefore, the impact on those on the receiving end.
The second lesson deals with unnecessary complexity in rule making. While the rules make sense to the rule writers, they are often “complex, frustrating, and incomprehensible to the public.” Sunstein wrote the guidance on implementing the Plain Writing Act of 2010 calling for writing which is “clear, concise, well-organized, and consistent with other best practices appropriate to the subject or field and intended audience. Such writing avoids jargon, redundancy, ambiguity, and obscurity.” Makes me wonder how we’re doing on all of our “rule making” for other agencies and the general public.
“News Note, 3/16/1911.” Berryman Political Cartoon Collection. National Archives Identifier 6010881
“Those who have the privilege of serving the American people should listen closely to those whom … [ Read all ]
The President’s Award is the highest honor that ASAP grants recognizing distinguished and sustained contributions in the furtherance of the public interest with respect to access, privacy, and fair information laws, policies, and practices. ASAP noted Miriam’s work in FOIA at the Justice Department and then in the National Archives General Counsel’s office during the 1990’s, as legislative counsel for the American Library Association and then UNESCO in Paris. Special recognition was focused on her work to establish and head OGIS, created by the 2007 amendments to the FOIA. In accepting the award, Miriam pointed out that she had grown up along with the FOIA and that OGIS represents the maturity of a law that is one of the hallmarks of open government and democracy.
I read from Senate Resolution 99 which commends public servants for their dedication and continued service to the United States and acknowledging that ” … public service is a noble calling.” I also read from President Obama’s Public Service Recognition Week greetings: “In communities across our country, public servants at the Federal, state, and local levels tirelessly carry out the work of our government. Diligently serving without the expectation of fanfare, they enforce our laws, teach our children, and lay a strong foundation for our Nation’s progress. Our dedicated employees are committed to a cause greater than personal ambition, and each day, they tackle many of our most urgent challenges and help us move closer to a more perfect Union.”
Photograph of desk installed in National Archives Library, 1950. National Archives Identifier 3493214
We created a little internal fanfare yesterday by recognizing staff for protecting and recovering stolen records, for outstanding service and support of our nation’s veterans, for achievement in engaging our citizens, for developing the Presidential Memorandum and Directive on Managing Government Records, for efforts to increase National Declassification Center production, to name just a few of awards tied closely to our Transformation pillars.
We also celebrated long term service milestones of … [ Read all ]
On Monday, April 15, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum suffered a fire. It was quickly managed and extinguished by first responders from the Boston Fire Department and the Boston Police Department. My sincere thanks go to them for their extraordinary efforts. I am grateful that no one was injured.
This fire occurred around the same time as the awful attack in Copley Plaza during the Boston Marathon. Our hearts go out to the victims of that terrible, terrible event. I have close ties to Boston. I have run that marathon with those people in the past and have had friends and relatives cheering for me at that finish line. I found this incident to be particularly sad and troubling.
The Boston Police Department is investigating the cause of the fire and initial indications are that it was not connected to the bombings at the Boston Marathon. Please remember the people affected by the tragedy in Boston on Monday, and wish for their resilience and for their healing.
Today, the work of the American people continues in Boston, and my heartfelt congratulations go out to the people who have been working hard to develop the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), which is launching online today. Unfortunately, Monday’s tragedy occurred at the very steps of where the official gala launch was planned to be held, the Boston Public Library. The gala has … [ Read all ]
Veterans Day has special meaning for us at the National Archives where we hold the almost 112 million individual personnel files and medical records of the men and women who have served in the military. Housed in St. Louis, Missouri and Valmeyer, Illinois, more than 800 staff process, protect, and service those records to ensure that veterans and their families can receive the benefits due to them, can document family histories, and can received replacement medals and awards. More than 5,000 requests are received each day and I am so proud of the dedication the staff brings to their work, often going the extra mile to ensure that our veterans get what they need.
Photograph of San Francisco Yeomen attached to the Naval Reserve, June 1918. National Archives Identifier: 533764
Another more than 10 million military service records and pension files from earlier wars—American Revolution through the Philippine-American War—are serviced in Washington, DC.
Each one of those records, as is the case with each record in our custody, tells a story. Two of thousands of stories:
A veteran’s family wrote hoping to confirm a story regarding a real “Great Escape” during World War II. Staff discovered that the veteran had been captured by the Germans in 1944 and sent to a labor camp in Poland. He escaped by tunneling under the wire fence, disguised … [ Read all ]
I hope that you and your families are well and safe after Sandy’s visit to the Northeast.
The National Archives buildings were largely spared, thanks to extensive preparation based on “lessons learned” from similar weather events. I am grateful to all of our staff and especially to our facilities and emergency staff for their ongoing work in keeping personnel and records safe. None of our records were damaged as a result of Hurricane Sandy, thanks to our staffs’ careful preparation.
At Archives I, in Washington D.C., our facilities staff took several precautionary steps prior to Hurricane Sandy’s arrival, including pumping down sump pits and pre-deploying the flood gates at the A1 moat openings. Additional measures implemented after the 2006 flooding including the installation of coffer dams and watertight doors, successfully limited water leakage to a minimal amount. The generator fuel tanks were filled and ready in case power was lost.
East Flood Wall (7th Street), Archives I Building, Washington DC:
West Flood Wall (9th Street) Exterior, Archives I Building, Washington DC:
(Photo credit: Timothy Edwards, National Archives Facility Manager)
At Archives II, our facility at College Park, MD, advance preparations included pumping down the rain water storage tank and securing the exterior of the building, as well as filling the generator fuel tanks in case power was lost. Power service remained throughout. There … [ Read all ]
In his Memorandum on Managing Government Records, President Obama stated “…proper records management is the backbone of open Government.” The Memorandum began an executive branch wide effort to reform records management policies and practices and required each agency to:
identify a senior official responsible for records
provide plans for improving or maintaining its records management program, especially electronic records; and
suggest obstacles to sound, cost effective management policies and practices
Finally, the Memorandum mandates that the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and I issue a Records Management Directive which focuses on:
creating a Government wide records management framework that is more efficient and cost effective
promoting records management policies and practices that enhance the capability of agencies to fulfill their statutory missions
maintaining accountability through documentation of agency actions
increasing open Government and appropriate access to Government records
supporting agency compliance with applicable legal requirements related to the preservation of information relevant to litigation; and
transitioning from paper-based records management to electronic records management where feasible.
I am pleased to report that this morning Jeffrey Zients, Acting Director of OMB and I issued the Managing Government Records Directive. With lots of hard work on the part of National Archives and Records Administration, White House, Federal agency staffs and stakeholder groups, the directive charts new directions for the management of the … [ Read all ]
Last Saturday I spoke to an enthusiastic crowd of Wikimedians at the Wikimania 2012 Conference here in Washington. Over 1400 people from 87 countries came together to talk, hack, and share their expertise and experiences at the week-long event. I was glad to share in their joie de vivre and to talk about our common missions at the closing plenary session.
Check out the enthusiasm for the National Archives at Wikimania 2012:
So you may be asking why the Archivist of the United States is so interested in working with the Wikimedia Foundation. As I noted at the conference, 42% of Americans turn to Wikipedia for information.* It is a terrific way to make Archives content more transparent and available. If we are serious as an agency about our mission to provide access to permanent federal records, and indeed we are, then we must consider working with the community and using the power tools available through the Wikimedia Foundation.
Our Wikipedian in Residence (pictured above) has already worked with our staff to upload over 90,000 digital copies of our records to the Wikimedia Commons for use in Wikipedian articles. We have several more projects in the pipeline, too, all in an effort to increase access to our records.
Here’s what I said to the crowd Saturday afternoon:
The conference had a robust backchannel of information … [ Read all ]
On his first day on the job President Barack Obama told his Senior Staff,
“Our commitment to openness means more than simply informing the American people about how decisions are made. It means recognizing that Government does not have all the answers, and that public officials need to draw on what citizens know. And that’s why, as of today, I’m directing members of my administration to find new ways of tapping the knowledge and experience of ordinary Americans—scientists and civil leaders, educators and entrepreneurs—because the way to solve the problems of our time, as a nation, is by involving the American people in shaping the policies that affect their lives.”
Knowing we don’t have all the answers, we’re changing the way we think about our work at the National Archives and Records Administration. We’re shifting our perspectives to reflect the fact that we do not have all the answers. The principles of open government – transparency, participation, and collaboration – help us draw on what citizens know.
Today, we release our updated Open Government Plan for 2012-2014. Looking back over the past two years, I’m proud of our accomplishments in strengthening open government in our agency and in our society. We set an ambitious path, accomplishing almost 70 tasks. Over the next two years our work will include:
This week we had an agency wide Public Employee Service Recognition webinar. Staff gathered virtually across the country to celebrate their fellow employees, especially those who have provided 35, 40, and 45+ years of Federal Service.
I am very proud of the dedicated folks I work with and although it wasn’t as good as being in all 44 facilities at once, it was terrific to hear the hooting and hollering as the names were read.
National Archives staff are skilled public servants who help people connect with the records they need—veterans, genealogists, students, scholars, and those just curious about our history. And this staff helps our fellow Federal employees in managing and accessing their own records and provides service to the Hill for access to Congressional Records on our shelves.
Five people who together have given the American people 237 years of service were honored:
Charles Johnson, a Finding Aids Specialist in Washington, DC has served 45 years.
Ray Hess, an Archives Technician in the National Declassification Center in College Park, MD, has served 45 years.
Kenneth Casey, a Transfer and Disposal Specialist at the Federal Records Center in Chicago, IL, has served 45 years.
Brenda Bernard, Administrative Officer in the Federal Records Center in Philadelphia, PA, has served 46 years.
Bernard Gardner, an Archives Technician in the Washington National Records
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