Archive for the ‘Open Government’ Category

Change You Can See and Experience

Written on: December 20, 2010 | 9 Comments

Change is not easy, but NARA staff members are doing it with enthusiam and we are seeing the results.

Wireless internet is now available for researchers who use our Washington, DC and College Park, MD facilities. This service is free and available to registered researchers.

On Monday, we launched the redesigned With your help, we have made it easier for researchers, veterans, teachers, and visitors to find the information they are looking for. This summer, you voted and we listened.


The Redesigned

Later this month, we will launch Online Public Access, a prototype for a new search and display in the research section of We want to encourage you to experience the new search interface and send your feedback to


Coming Soon: Online Public Access

This month, we will also release the first National Archives’ mobile application called “Today’s Document,” based on the popular feature on


Also Coming Soon: Today’s Document Mobile App

And in January, NARA staff will begin to use an internal collaboration platform. This platform will use social-media based software to enable staff to better communicate, collaborate, and build communities.

We will see even more changes in this coming year.

Our Transformation Launch Team is engaging staff in an agency-wide reorganization and an identifcation of core values. The team is also working on substantial … [ Read all ]

In an Archives State of Mind

Written on: December 10, 2010 | 0 Comments

In my first year on the job, I have become a fan of the daily horoscopes in the Washington Post. My favorite so far:

Many feel limited by the work they do. You won’t be in this category today, though. Your work expands you. You’ll be excited by what you learn, and you feel privileged to do what you do.

I feel both excited and privileged to serve as the Archivist of the United States. On December 2, 2010, I had the opportunity to express this in my State of the Archives Address. Take a moment to watch the video of the event or read the text of my speech.

[ Read all ]

Are these Records?

Written on: November 2, 2010 | 4 Comments

Federal agencies’ Facebook posts, YouTube videos, blog posts, and tweets… are all of these Federal records?

Increasingly, Federal agencies are using web 2.0 and social media tools to quickly and effectively communicate with the public. These applications, sites, and tools encourage public participation and increase our ability to be more open and transparent.


The informal tone of the content, however, should not be confused with insignificance. Agencies must comply with all records management laws, regulations, and policies when using web 2.0 and social media tools.

On October 20, 2010, the National Archives and Records Administration issued “Guidance on Managing Records in Web 2.0/Social Media Platforms” also known as NARA Bulletin 2011-02.

The bulletin says that the “principles for analyzing, scheduling, and managing records are based on content and are independent of the medium; where and how an agency creates, uses, or stores information does not affect how agencies identify Federal records.” The following questions are meant to help agencies determine record status:

  • Is the information unique and not available anywhere else?
  • Does it contain evidence of the agency’s policies, business, mission, etc.?
  • Is this tool being used in relation to the agency’s work?
  • Is use of the tool authorized by the agency?
  • Is there a business need for the information?

If the answers to any of the questions are yes, then the content is likely … [ Read all ]

Open to Change

Written on: October 26, 2010 | 74 Comments

Since my swearing in as the 10th Archivist of the United States less than a year ago, we’ve taken important steps to become a more open, transparent, participatory, and collaborative agency.

I’m proud of our accomplishments:

We’ve made a great start, but we have a lot more to do if we are to be well-positioned to meet the challenges we face in the 21st century.

It’s time for us to step out of our comfort zones and rethink how we operate as an agency.

A few months ago, I charged a task force to draft a plan for agency transformation. A draft plan was circulated internally for staff input. I’d like to thank the NARA staff who submitted hundreds of thoughtful comments on the proposed plan. Their insight was indispensable in the development of the final report.

Last week their final report, “A Charter for Change,” was issued to staff. The report outlines a new organizational model for the National Archives. These organizational changes are driven by a set of guiding principles. These are the pillars of how we … [ Read all ]

Leading an Open Archives

Written on: September 25, 2010 | 4 Comments

Recently, I read an article and book by Charlene Li, an expert on social media and former analyst and vice president at Forrester Research. In the book, Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead, she states that greater openness in organizations is inevitable and is a consequence of the increasing use of social media.

As your customers and employees become more adept at using social and other emerging technologies, they will push you to be more open, urging you to let go in ways in which you may not be comfortable. Your natural inclination may be to fight this trend, to see it as a fad that you hope will fade and simply go away. It won’t. Not only is this trend inevitable, but it also is going to force you and your organization to be more open than you are today.

It’s evident that social media is breaking down barriers to communication and empowering citizens and employees to speak their minds freely. Broadcasting our opinions, views, and expressing our personality, is simple and easy on blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. Li describes this new reality as a “period of fundamental social change akin to the rise of the automobile or the introduction of television.”

Her prescription for managing this new reality is “open leadership,” which means “having the confidence and … [ Read all ]

Coming Soon: Federal Register 2.0

Written on: July 22, 2010 | 2 Comments

On July 26, we will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Federal Register Act by launching Federal Register 2.0.  In a special event in the Rotunda of the National Archives, I will be joined by the Public Printer of the United States and distinguished guests from regulatory agencies and the open government community to introduce the web 2.0 version of the daily Federal Register.

What is the Federal Register?

The Federal Register is the legal newspaper of the U.S. government and contains rules, proposed rules, and public notices of federal agencies, as well Presidential documents. It’s an important, crucial part of our democracy. The Office of the Federal Register is a component of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Have you ever tried to find something in the Federal Register?

As you might expect, the Federal Register is dense and difficult to read whether in print or online as a PDF.  It’s also difficult to find what you’re looking for.

Federal Register 2.0 takes into consideration the 21st century user and turns the Federal Register website into a daily web newspaper. The clear layout will have tools to help users find what they need, comment on proposed rules, and share material relevant to their interests. In addition to greatly improved navigation and search tools, the site will highlight the most popular and newsworthy documents and … [ Read all ]

Citizen Archivists Making an Impact at the National Archives

Written on: July 2, 2010 | 1 Comment

On June 16, I joined Carl Malamud and members of the International Amateur Scanning League (IASL) in the Still Picture Research Room at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. I was lending my support to their newest citizen archivist project — scanning and making available online approximately 15,000 State Department photographs of diplomatic events and facilities within the records of the National Archives. This is yet one more example of the work of Carl Malamud, esteemed citizen archivist, who has worked tirelessly over the years to put public information in the public domain. Since February, Carl and the members of the IASL have been working to make over 1,500 videos from the records of the National Archives available online.

Carl Malamud and Members of the International Amateur Scanning League

Carl Malamud (right) and Members of the International Amateur Scanning League

(Photo Courtesy of the National Archives)

I got the chance to do some scanning and see the new equipment supplied by the Scanning League in action. State Department International New Media Strategist, Dean Cheves was on hand to share his enthusiasm and support for the project. Volunteers from the State Department will also be scanning photographs, which will be valuable for U.S. Embassies around the world. I’m hoping this project will be inspiration for more departments and agencies to send volunteers to the National Archives to work on digitizing their records.

The Archivist Scanning Images

The Archivist of … [ Read all ]

Releasing All We Can, Protecting What We Must

Written on: June 25, 2010 | 0 Comments

This past Wednesday, the National Archives hosted a public forum to discuss how the National Declassification Center (NDC) should prioritize the declassification of records. The forum was an active and lively discussion. We heard many suggestions and comments from members of the public on a draft prioritization plan. I was joined on stage by Sheryl Shenberger, the first permanent director of the NDC; Michael Kurtz, the Assistant Archivist for Records Services – Washington, D.C. and former Acting Director of the NDC; and Beth Fidler, senior archivist in the Office of Presidential Libraries.

The prioritization plan is being developed with your help. We’ve woven the principles of open government — transparency, participation, and collaboration — into our process. We made the draft plan publicly available on our website. We’ve received your comments and suggestions through email, the NDC Blog, and the June 23 public forum. We also worked to bring the forum to those who were unable to attend in person through a live webcast.

The prioritization plan will serve as a roadmap in processing the backlog of 400 million pages of classified records by December 31, 2013. The goal is to get as many of these documents as possible on the open shelves as quickly as possible for researchers, journalists, historians, government officials, and the public.


(Photo Courtesy of the National Archives)

I encourage you … [ Read all ]

Citizen Archivist Discovers National Treasure in the Stacks

Written on: May 24, 2010 | 1 Comment

At the National Archives and Records Administration, we care for our nation’s most beloved documents. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Bill of Rights are our most well known national treasures, but in the stacks there are many others, some of them not yet discovered. At a researcher meeting last month, I met Jonathan Webb Deiss, a researcher at the National Archives. His knowledge, passion, and enthusiasm for discovering treasures makes him a model citizen archivist. Jonathan told me how he found a previously undiscovered Revolutionary War diary in Record Group 46, Records of the U.S. Senate. As a knowledgeable and skilled researcher, Jonathan knew that Samuel Leavitt’s Journal to Westpoint was important. One can easily imagine his excitement and anticipation in that moment of discovery.


Jonathan told me that Samuel Leavitt was a soldier from Stratham, New Hampshire. He enlisted in early July 1780 to serve a three month tour. The journal starts on July 5, 1780 and covers his march to West Point, his tour of duty, and march back to New Hampshire in October 1780. On page 17 of the diary, Samuel Leavitt describes General Washington at West Point and hearing the “news of Gen’l Arnold the commander of the Garrison deserting to the Enemy.” Watch the following video of Jonathan describing his discovery, details of the … [ Read all ]

Redefining Transparency in a Digital Age

Written on: May 6, 2010 | 9 Comments

If you’re reading this, the following statistic from a recent Pew Internet report applies to you: 

Fully 82% of internet users (representing 61% of all American adults) looked for information or completed a transaction on a government website in the previous twelve months.

It probably doesn’t surprise you that increasingly Americans are relying on the internet for access to government information.  More and more this is taking the form of social media tools like blogs, social networking sites, and services like Twitter or text messaging.  While the social nature of this type of engagement makes the tone more informal, it does not indicate that the engagement is trivial.

In the same Pew Internet report, three-quarters (79%) agree with the statement that having the ability to follow and communicate online with government using social media tools “helps people be more informed about what the government is doing,” while 74% agree that it “makes government agencies and officials more accessible.”

In today’s digital age, the National Archives and Records Administration must fulfill its mission not only in the research rooms, regional archives, and presidential libraries, but also in cyberspace.  Through our website and creative use of social media tools, we can provide access to the records that document the actions of our government.  This enables greater transparency, a crucial pillar of open government.

What does it mean … [ Read all ]