Advisory Committee on Presidential Library-Foundation Partnerships Meets

On November 10, the Advisory Committee on Presidential Library-Foundation Partnerships met at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The Committee advises the Archivist of the United States on issues affecting the functioning of existing Presidential libraries and library programs and the development of future Presidential libraries.

Archivist David S. Ferriero began the meeting by updating the advisory committee on the on-going reorganization at the National Archives, specifically how it will relate to Presidential Libraries. He announced that a new Office of Library and Museum Services will be led by Sharon Fawcett. This new division will include the current Office of Presidential Libraries (including the archival units), the Center for Legislative Archives, as well as the education, museum operations and public programs components from the Regional Archives and the Center for the National Archives Experience.

The panel received an update from Tom Mills who is heading NARA’s Transformation Launch Team. Mills stated that by January everyone on staff will have a clear idea on where they will be working under the new agency reorganization. His team is reaching out to staff and trying to increase internal communication to help improve employee morale and avoid creating new work silos.

A discussion followed of the advisory committee’s new charter. The General Services Administration had been tasked with reassessing the charters of all Federal Advisory Committees. The panel’s name has now been changed from the Advisory Committee on Presidential Libraries to the Advisory Committee on Presidential Library-Foundation Partnerships.

An update was provided concerning an on-going investigation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) into the legal relationship between the presidential library foundations and NARA. It was stressed that the investigation was not an audit of the foundations. GAO representatives made clear that any financial information that was being requested was simply to understand how the foundations did business. The investigation was the result of a request from Chairman Wm. Lacy Clay (D-MO), chair of the House Oversight Subcommittee on Information Management, Census and the National Archives. It was noted that the GAO does not usually end an on-going investigation when there is a change in party control of the House.

Nancy Kegan Smith provided an update on declassification efforts at the Presidential Libraries in meeting the requirements set forth in Executive Order (EO) 13526, the Obama administration’s EO on declassification. Smith emphasized that declassification is a key priority at each Presidential Library. It is anticipated that the new National Declassification Center (NDC) will help expedite that effort since library staffs have very little declassification authority. An annual prioritization schedule will be developed between the Presidential Libraries and NDC based on high research interest, the age of the records and NARA’s ability to process declassified returns.

The current priority is to declassify all of the remaining records from the Truman and Eisenhower administrations. It is estimated that 40,000 pages are awaiting declassification at the Truman Library and 60,000 pages at the Eisenhower Library.

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger recently donated his papers to the Library of Congress and the Nixon and Ford Libraries will be getting copies of those records. The emphasis will be placed on declassifying materials related to China. In addition, the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon Libraries are working on a special declassification project involving the Pentagon Papers.

Sam McClure provided an update on NARA’s Electronic Records Archive (ERA). ERA is already the repository of the electronic records of the George W. Bush administration representing more than 80 terabytes of data. The ERA has already indexed 300 million Bush electronic records. However, ERA does not yet contain any of the electronic records of the Clinton, Bush 42 and Reagan presidencies.

The Advisory Committee received a report on a visitor’s study done earlier this year to measure the effectiveness of the presidential libraries in meeting their public education role. Overall public satisfaction in total and by library is extremely high. A vast majority (97%) of visitors were very or somewhat satisfied with their experience. Over half of library visitors strongly agreed that they learned something they did not know before and that exhibits provided a positive learning experience for children. Satisfaction with individual libraries was also very high with the Bush and Truman libraries receiving the highest ratings and the Kennedy and Reagan libraries the lowest.

The meeting ended with a period of internal housekeeping. A consensus Memorandum of Understanding template for use between the presidential library foundations and NARA is being developed. It was also announced that an Association of Presidential Library Foundations had been created apart from the Advisory Committee.

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