The Coalition Column

News Briefs, March 2008

Lee White, March 2008

National Archives to Restore Research Room Hours

Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein has announced that the National Archives will restore its evening and weekend hours in its Washington, DC and College Park, MD, research rooms. Effective the week of April 14, 2008, the extended hours will be 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday. Hours on Monday and Tuesday will continue to be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) published an interim final rule on February 1, 2008, to restore the weekly evening and Saturday hours. At the beginning of fiscal year (FY) 2007, NARA reduced the extended hours that these research rooms were open to the public because of fiscal constraints. In the FY 2008 NARA budget, the Congress provided funding to increase the hours.

NARA recently issued a request for comments on the rule in the Federal Register. Comments on the interim final rule must be received by March 17, 2008, at the address shown below. Any changes to the rule resulting from this comment period will be made as soon as practicable after the April 14, 2008, effective date.
Comments may be submitted by any of the following methods:

  • Federal eRulemaking Portal: visit www.regulations.gov to be taken directly to the comment page for the interim rule.
  • Fax: Submit comments to 301-837-0319
  • Mail: Send comments to Regulations Comments Desk (NPOL), Room 4100, Policy and Planning Staff, National Archives and Records Administration, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740-6001.
  • Hand Delivery or Courier: Deliver comments to 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD.

Those seeking further information should contact Nancy Allard at 301-837-1477 or Jennifer Davis Heaps at 301-837-1801 or via fax number 301-837-0319.

The Consolidation Appropriations Act of 2007 signed by President Bush on December 26, 2007, includes $1.3 million to restore evening and Saturday hours in the research rooms in the National Archives Building and the National Archives at College Park (Archives II). Prior to October 1, 2006, these research rooms were open three evenings per week (Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday) and every Saturday. As noted above, the research rooms will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, and Saturday. On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday they will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

NARA stated that they made this adjustment to the previous schedule so that out-of-town researchers will have consecutive evenings along with Saturday to work. The Archives set the effective date of the new hours as April 14, 2008, to allow time to hire and train additional research room staff and to adjust the terms of the security guard contract.
When evening hours are restored, researchers will need to have records provided to them late in the afternoon. NARA staff will provide the additional service of pulling records from the stacks at 3:30 p.m. on the three weekdays that the facilities are open in the evening. As was the case prior to October 2006, there will be no records pulled on Saturday.

NCH Members Seek Release of Rosenberg Grand Jury Records

On January 31, 2008, a petition was filed in federal court in New York City seeking the release of grand jury records from the 1951 indictment of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were accused of running an espionage ring that passed American atomic secrets to the Soviet Union, convicted of spying, and executed in 1953. The petitioners include five members of the National Coalition for History, the National Security Archive at George Washington University, the American Historical Association, the American Society for Legal History, the Organization of American Historians, the Society of American Archivists, and New York Times reporter Sam Roberts.

Supported by extensive declarations from experts, the petition describes the trial of the Rosenbergs as a defining moment in the Cold War, and argues that 57 years later, scholarly and public interest in these transcripts far outweigh any remaining privacy or national security interests in continued secrecy. An extensive memorandum in support of the release was also filed with the petition.

Supporting declarations point out that details of the Rosenberg grand jury proceedings have come to light over the years, yet significant questions remain unanswered about the case that the grand jury records are likely to address. The declarations variously point to questions about the scope and targets of the spy ring, the conduct of government prosecutors, the weight of the evidence, particularly against Ethel Rosenberg, and the involvement of other individuals.

Among the declarants are historian John Berresford; National Security Archive director Thomas Blanton; University of Prince Edward Island professor and former NCH director Bruce Craig; law student Jennifer Dillard; Yale University professor John Lewis Gaddis; Library of Congress manuscript historian John Earl Haynes; Temple University professor Allen M. Hornblum; Professor Ronald Radosh; Yeshiva University professor Ellen W. Schrecker; George Mason University professor Martin J. Sherwin; St. Joseph's University professor Katherine A. S. Sibley; Marquette University professor emeritus Athan G. Theohariris; and historian Steven Usdin. In addition, Robert Meeropol, on behalf of the families of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, submitted a declaration in support of the release of the grand jury records.

A similar petition seeking the release of special grand jury transcripts from the investigation of Alger Hiss was granted in 1999 based on the significant public interest in filling gaps in the historical record. The petition to unseal the Hiss materials resulted in the release of several thousand pages, including the testimony from a list of witnesses that included Representative Richard Nixon, Alger Hiss, Whittaker Chambers, Harry Dexter White, Congressman Karl E. Mundt, and others. That release brought to light, for the first time, the fact that the future president (Nixon) made a second appearance before the Hiss grand jury to implore the grand jurors to do their patriotic duty and indict Alger Hiss, but not his accuser, Whittaker Chambers. Shortly after Nixon's appearance, the grand jury did just that, triggering Hiss's trial and conviction.

—Lee White is the executive director of the National Coalition for History. He can be reached at lwhite@ historycoalition.org.