Advisory Committee on the Records of Congress Meets

On June 21, the Advisory Committee on the Records of Congress (ACRC) met at the U.S Capitol Visitors Center. The Advisory Committee is comprised of the officials in Congress responsible for its records (Clerk of the House, Secretary of the Senate, Senate Historian, and House Historian) 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 recognizing the excellent work being done by the House Office of History and Preservation. She cited numerous initiatives including an oral history project which conducts interviews with current and former Members of the House as well as selected staff, a new history of Hispanic-Americans in Congress which is currently in production, and the publication of a new booklet on Statuary Hall.

Later in the meeting, a demonstration was provided of a new service available on the Clerk’s website called “House Live” (www.houselive.gov). The website not only provides real-time video of proceedings on the House floor, but also includes a searchable database of video from the beginning of this year’s session of the 111th Congress. Expansion of the system to include video of committee hearings has been discussed, but is not expected in the near future.

Secretary of the Senate Nancy Erickson noted that, for the first time, both the Offices of the Majority and Minority Leader in the Senate now have archivists on their staff. She reported that the Banking Committee has become the sixth Senate committee to hire an archivist.

Archivist of the United States David Ferriero reported on his first seven months in office. He noted that he had been a witness at four congressional oversight hearings thus far. He cited changing the culture at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) remained a major challenge along with electronic records, and the constant need for more space. He reported the Clinton Library had supplied over 165,000 pages of documents relating to Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan’s tenure during the Clinton administration to the Senate Judiciary Committee. He expressed his strong support for the Center for Legislative Archives and stated he would do all he could to ensure that it had adequate resources.

Sheryl Vogt, current president of the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress (ACSC), reported on the organization’s annual meeting that was held in Washington in May. The meeting included sessions on best practices for establishing a congressional center, reflections by former Members of Congress concerning the preservation of their records and other topics. She also reported on the creation of a new interactive ACSC website.

U.S. Senate Archivist Karen Paul said that as a result of the ACSC session with congressional correspondents, she has been reaching out to journalists to increase the awareness of the importance of them preserving records of their coverage, and finding a repository for them. She spoke about the challenges of expediting the declassification of the records of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and reported that 145 cubic feet of records from the Church Committee were candidates for declassification. Ms. Paul reported that 15% of the Senate will be retiring at the end of this Congress and that 9 Senators had settled on repositories for their records.

House Archivist Robin Reeder stated that she continues to meet with House committees and is developing recommendations to help them address electronic records preservation. She reported that the House archival staff has installed compact shelving that will increase storage capacity by 65%.

Richard Hunt, Director of the Center for Legislative Archives, presented an update on his office’s activities and provided the ACRC members with a written report. Discussion centered on the status 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. Hunt reported that the effort had not been proceeding as quickly as he had hoped. He said that a contract to hire a full-time team of experts would be signed soon and that he expects be able to provide the ACRC with a set of recommendations by the time it meets in December.

The meeting concluded with a presentation by William J. Bosanko, Director of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) at the National Archives. He provided an update on the implementation of President Obama’s Executive Order 13526 dealing with declassification that was issued at the end of 2009. He noted that many of the requirements imposed by the EO reflected the recommendations made in a report, Improving Declassification, that was issued by the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) in 2008. Bosanko reported that the PIDB would be holding a public meeting on July 22 specifically devoted to the issue of declassification of congressional records.

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