NCH Urges the Smithsonian to Increase Transparency

The National Coalition for History, and other organizations have met with staff for members of Congress on the Smithsonian Institution’s Board of Regents to urge the revision of Directive 807, a recently-adopted policy that would, among other things, broaden the Smithsonian’s ability to withhold certain business and financial information from the public.

A federal court case (Dong v. Smithsonian Institution, 125 F.3d 877, (D.C. Cir. 1997), cert. denied, 118 S. Ct. 2311,141 L. Ed. 2d 169, 524 U.S. 922) ruled that the Smithsonian is not part of the Executive Branch and therefore is not subject to the Privacy Act or the Freedom of Information Act. Nonetheless, the Smithsonian has a stated policy of “responding to public requests in a manner consistent with the principles of FOIA.”

NCH and thirty other signatories recently sent a letter to the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents stating “We are concerned that, despite its voiced commitments to increased openness and transparency, the Smithsonian Institution, the guardian of our Nation’s treasures with a privileged location in the Nation’s Capital, continues to adopt policies that conflict with these commitments.” The letter was accomanied by a detailed memorandum setting forth specific problems with Directive 807.

House staff indicated that the Smithsonian Institution’s Governance Committee discussed Directive 807 and revisions are expected.