Archive for May, 2013

Simplification

Written on: May 29, 2013 | 3 Comments

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.

Simpler Cass Sunstein

“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 Notes Berryman Cartoon

“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 ]

Round Two of US-Canadian Rivalry

Written on: May 20, 2013 | 3 Comments

On the 15th of June in 1859, Lyman Cutlar, an American recently settled on San Juan Island, shot a pig which ” … having been at several times a great annoyance and that morning destroyed a portion of his garden … ”

Cutlar affidavit Page 1

Affidavit of Lyman A. Cutlar Regarding Pig Shooting, September 7, 1859

(click on image to view the complete 5-page document in our Flickr photostream)

The pig belonged to the British Hudson Bay Company who demanded compensation in the amount of $100. The astonished Cutlar valued the pig at less than $10. While not the shot heard round the world, it did mark the beginning of the Pig War-a border dispute between the United States and Canada. While that was the only shot fired, twelve years of posturing on both sides which included troops and navies and some soon to be famous Civil War principals, George E. Pickett and Winfield Scott.  The Treaty of Washington between the United States and Great Britain was signed in 1871 and the San Juan Island matter referred to Kaiser Wilhelm I of German for arbitration and in October of 1872 ruled in favor of the United States.

An early commemoration of the anniversary of The Pig War was the excuse for the staff of the National Archives in Washington and our friends across the street at the Canadian Embassy to once again test public opinion-this time on bacon. Last … [ Read all ]

Open Government Appreciations

Written on: May 15, 2013 | 2 Comments

This week the American Society of Access Professionals (ASAP) honored the National Archives with its two highest awards. The President’s Award for Distinguished Public Service was awarded to Miriam Nisbet, Director of our Office of Government Information Services (OGIS). And the Director’s Award for Superior Public Service was awarded to the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB).  PIDB is an advisory board created by Congress to promote access to national security decisions and activities.  Our Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) Director serves as the PIDB Executive Secretary and ISOO staff support the work of the board.

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.

berryman - open for business 6011066
“Open for Business,” by cartoonist … [ Read all ]

Happy Public Service Recognition Week!

Written on: May 8, 2013 | 0 Comments

Yesterday we celebrated the accomplishments of National Archives staff across the country in our annual Archivist’s Awards Ceremony.

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.”

National Archives desk
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 ]

You Are What You Search

Written on: May 6, 2013 | 1 Comment

In early December 2009, Google announced on their blog titled “Personalized Search for Everyone” that they would be using 57 “signals” derived from your previous searching behavior in order to predict the sites you were most likely to choose in your search. Netflix, Yahoo, Facebook, and YouTube, to mention just a few, use similar predictive Internet filters based on who you are, past searching behavior, and limiting hits to what fits your profile. Eli Pariser in his book, The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You, describes the result as “invisible autopropaganda-indoctrinating us with our own ideas, amplifying our desires for things that are familiar and leaving us oblivious to the dangers lurking in the dark territory of the unknown.” A space outside our own comfort zone where there is less room for those chance encounters that bring insight and learning.

Cass Sunstein, in his book, Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge, describes the problem as information cocoons-”communications universes in which we hear only what we choose and only what comforts and pleases us.” Where we choose to get our information, what we choose to read or listen to, and the avoidance of those channels that are outside our own comfort zone. As Pariser reminds us, “Creativity is often sparked by the collision of ideas from difference disciplines and cultures.”

Don’t believe … [ Read all ]