On October 1, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a hearing to consider the nomination of David S. Ferriero to be the next Archivist of the United States.
The hearing was presided over by Senator Thomas Carper (D-DE), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services, & International Security.
Mr. Ferriero was introduced by Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) whom he had known during his tenure as the Librarian at Duke University.
Chairman Carper began with a brief opening statement welcoming the nominee and expressing his two overriding concerns with NARA, electronic records management and the costs associated with running the Presidential Library system.
After an opening statement, Mr. Ferriero responded to a round of questions from the chair.
In response to a question about security breaches at NARA, Ferriero stated one of the challenges the agency faces is in striking the proper balance between providing public access while at the same time protecting sensitive information. He stated that from his own experiences security breaches were most often caused internally. Ferriero noted that NARA has established a security task force and that he would ensure as Archivist that NARA would make security a top priority.
Chairman Carper then asked the nominee what he considered the major challenges NARA faced in managing electronic records. Ferriero responded that the real issue is the lack of standards for handling records across government agencies which makes ingestion more difficult. He felt NARA needed to be more aggressive and assertive in assuring compliance with existing requirements, and provide more education and training for those employees at federal agencies with responsibility for records management.
The questioning then turned to the topic of the escalating costs of maintaining the Presidential Library system. Mr. Ferriero said he had read the report which NARA had submitted to Congress this week on alternative models for the Presidential Library system. He expressed concerns about the challenges in managing such a decentralized system and the capital costs of maintaining security and infrastructure at so many facilities. He also questioned the sustainability of the current model.
Chairman Carper expressed his concern that most government agencies consider records management an afterthought. The Senator expressed his concerns about overclassification and the backlog of materials awaiting declassification by NARA. Mr. Ferriero stated the Administration’s support for a National Declassification Center and the pending issuance of a new executive order dealing with classification would alleviate some of the problems. However, Ferriero felt a major problem was at the front end of the process with overclassification. He stressed the need for erring on the side of openness when faced with a classification decision.
Senator Carper then asked about the importance of maintaining NARA’s reputation for independence and non-partisanship. Mr. Ferriero felt that Congress had expressed its commitment to NARA’s independence by locating the new Office of Government Information Services and the National Declassification Center at the agency. He committed himself to working with the authorizing committees in Congress if he felt NARA’s independence was being threatened.
Chairman Carper concluded his questioning with a question about the nominees vision for NARA’s outreach and educational role. Mr. Ferriero said that the when the new Electronic Records Archive comes on-line in the near future it will ensure public access 365 days a year. He stated that NARA had a good track record of reaching out to students and teachers that would continue to be a priority under his stewardship of the agency.
Senator Carper then adjourned the hearing.