On November 16, the Advisory Committee on the Records of Congress (ACRC) met at the National Archives. The Advisory Committee is comprised of the officials in Congress responsible for its records (Clerk of the House and Secretary of the Senate) and the Archivist of the United States, who is responsible for the administration of the archived records of Congress.
House and Senate leadership appoint public members of the committee, who represent historians, political scientists, congressional archivists, and other users and caretakers of legislative records. The Committee meets twice a year as required by law and continues to work actively to promote a more complete documentation of the legislative process.
Clerk of the House Lorraine Miller began the meeting by introducing David Ferriero, the new Archivist of the United States. He stated that during Hill visits as part of his confirmation process he heard a great deal of praise for the way NARA was assisting with the preservation of congressional records.
Ms. Miller stated that her office has been emphasizing a spirit of openness and transparency. Her office has been grappling with the challenge of providing “one-stop shopping” to allow the public to search for and access legislation, and ultimately link to video of the bill being discussed in hearings or on the floor.
She reported that the Clerk’s office had created a YouTube channel (House Hub), a multi-media center that allows direct links to video content from committees, Members of Congress and leadership offices. Ms. Miller also highlighted the Office of History and Preservation’s oral history project which conducts interviews with current and former Members of the House as well as selected staff. (Note: the U.S. Senate also has a channel on YouTube).
Secretary of the Senate Nancy Erickson discussed the need for Senate committees to either hire professional archival staff or, at a minimum, designate and train current staff to preserve records. She noted the extraordinary work done by Senate and NARA staff in archiving and transferring the records of the late-Senator Ted Kennedy to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library following his death in August.
U.S. Senate Archivist Karen Paul said her office had been aggressively urging every Senate committee to have a professional archivist on staff. She reported that progress has been made with regard to the preservation of electronic records by committees. The Judiciary, Agriculture and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committees have joined the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in systematically sending electronic records to be preserved.
Concerns were expressed by advisory committee members that the records of the various leadership offices in the House and Senate were not being preserved since they are considered the property of the Members of Congress who hold these offices. Similar concerns were also expressed about the lack of preservation of the records of the various party caucuses.
House Archivist Robin Reeder stated that she continues to meet with House committees and is developing recommendations to help them address electronic records preservation.
Richard Hunt, Director of the Center for Legislative Archives, presented an update on his office’s activities. He distributed a brochure “Congress: Shaping the Nation’s History 1789-1869,” highlighting a new initiative to distribute realistic facsimiles of original congressional documents to the nation’s classrooms. There are six educational units designed around each document that highlights a pivotal moment in the nation’s history. In addition, Hunt reported that available record space in the Archives I building for the storage of congressional records was currently at capacity.
Bob Spangler provided a status report on the congressional records aspects of NARA’s Electronic Records Archive (ERA). Concerns were expressed from panel members over the availability of staff and financial resources, the volume of future data, storage capacity and accessibility. Spangler said that over the next 18 months they are planning to receive between 30—150 terabytes of data from Congress. Committee members expressed their hopes to Mr. Ferriero that sufficient NARA resources would be allocated to ensure the ingestion of these materials.
The final order of business was a discussion of the Task Force on the Next Generation Finding Aids. The Task Force is charged with the development of enhanced search techniques to improve public access to the records of Congress. Sharon Leon, the Director of Public Projects at the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, was nominated and approved as chair of the Task Force. A motion was approved advising NARA to commit adequate funding to allow the Task Force to function. Mr. Ferriero concurred that there was an urgent need to expedite the process and that this would be a priority for NARA.