Archive for the ‘Open Government’ Category

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 ]

Pork and Fort Sumter: New Ways of Relating to our Documents

Written on: April 23, 2010 | 2 Comments

At the National Archives and Records Administration, our unique role as the nation’s records keeper is critical to the success of the President’s open government initiative.  Our work serves American democracy by safeguarding and preserving the records of our Government, ensuring that the people can discover, use, and learn from this documentary heritage.  I think this role is the most important, but then again, I might be a little too biased.

As the Archivist of the United States, I’m concerned that records management is not taken more seriously by Federal departments and agencies.  In my last post, I pointed to specific concerns found in a recent self-assessment report, including improper destruction of records.  I’m also concerned that more Americans aren’t troubled by this state of affairs.  One reason why Americans might not be more concerned is that they aren’t really aware of what happens to government records and why they are important.

I think it’s time we create new ways to tell our story.  Transparency, participation, and collaboration can help us change the way we talk about our work and our institution.  I’m challenging us to take a new approach and start communicating in more collaborative ways.

Recently, I discovered the website, “Today’s Document (Illustrated)” by Jon White.  Jon has taken our “Today’s Document” RSS feed and develops an illustration that is somehow related to … [ Read all ]

The Importance of Being Earnest (About Records Management)

Written on: April 20, 2010 | 2 Comments

I have said it before in a number of venues and I will say it again here, records management is the backbone of Open Government.  Without effective records management by all Federal agencies, the long-term success of the Open Government Initiative, not to mention the preservation and access of the permanently valuable records of the Federal Government, is in peril.

Yesterday we  sent a report, “Records Management Self-Assessment 2009: An Assessment of Records Management Programs in the Federal Government,” to Congress.  The report is a result of a self-assessment survey that we sent last Fall to 245 Federal cabinet-level agencies and their components, and independent agencies.  Although a 90 percent response rate sounds respectable, note that this was a mandatory survey.  Over 20 agencies did not respond.  Their reasons for not responding included:

  • The agency did not have an assigned records management officer responsible for completing the task
  • The responsible records management official did not receive the self-assessment
  • The agency missed the deadline, due to either accidental oversight or lack of resources to complete it

We cannot allow business as usual to continue in this way.  Records management must be taken seriously, not as a minor after-thought, by all Federal agencies.


Buckle your seat belts for the the most alarming statistic in the report: Nearly 80 percent of agencies report that they are either at … [ Read all ]

Cultivating Citizen Archivists

Written on: April 12, 2010 | 14 Comments

Recently, NASA launched an online project called “Be A Martian.”  At first glance, this website is a highly sophisticated public education tool that creates an online experience to connect the public with NASA’s mission.  On closer inspection, this is also an important crowdsourcing project.  The public is invited to participate as “citizen scientists” by aligning Mars imagery and counting craters.  The Martian Map room is an intriguing interface where the public is invited to actually add value to the vast amount of data from several Mars missions.  Do you see where I’m going with this?

Mapping Mars

While citizen science isn’t new, we are only now starting to create online platforms for citizens to make substantive contributions, regardless of location.  The U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) North American Bird Phenology Program has 1,754 online volunteers who have transcribed 228,479 bird migration cards.  The collection contains six million paper migration cards, representing the contributions of citizen scientists in the late 19th and 20th centuries.  The USGS Staff have developed a program to tap the enthusiasm and willingness of 21st century online citizen scientists to transcribe this data, which scientists are now analyzing to see how climate change affects migration.  This is an example of citizens contributing in very interesting ways, ways in which I can see “citizen archivists” contributing to our mission.

At the National Archives and Records Administration, we have … [ Read all ]

No Small Change

Written on: April 7, 2010 | 23 Comments

The Pew Research Center recently published a report, “The Impact of the Internet on Institutions in the Future,” in which it found that 72 percent of experts agreed with the statement:

By 2020, innovative forms of online cooperation will result in significantly more efficient and responsive governments, business, non-profits, and other mainstream institutions.

That optimism agreed to by the experts indicates their belief that the internet will prompt institutional change, but is contrasted with the same experts’ concerns that:

Government agencies are cumbersome and resistant to change. The pace of progress towards openness and responsiveness will be slower than anyone would hope.

In my first few months on the job, I’ve seen some resistance to change, but that has been outmatched by what I see as a wellspring of enthusiasm for changes to our agency. One aspect of my job is to uncover and unleash talent across the agency. I am happy to say that I’ve already seen the passion of our staff and I know we can change our course and exceed expectations.

In this digital age, we have the opportunity to work and communicate more efficiently, effectively, and in completely new ways. This will require a change not only in our processes, but also in the culture of the National Archives and Records Administration. Working on the Open Government Plan (PDF) has helped … [ Read all ]