The AHA Joins Statement on Nomination of Allen Weinstein

AHA Staff, May 2004

On April 8, 2004, President Bush nominated Allen Weinstein, currently senior adviser at the International Foundation for Election Systems in Washington, D.C., to be the Archivist of the United States. Because it came surprisingly prematurely—John Carlin, the current archivist, has let it be known widely that he would retire only in July 2005, on his 65th birthday—and because it seemed to violate the requirement that the nomination should be preceded by consultations with interested parties, the White House decision has caused concern in the archival and historical communities. The AHA has joined the Society of American Archivists, the American Association for State and Local History, the Association of Research Libraries, the Coordinating Council for Women in History, the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators, the National Humanities Alliance, the Organization of American Historians, and more than a dozen others in issuing the following statement:

We are concerned about the sudden announcement on April 8, 2004, that the White House has nominated Allen Weinstein to become the next Archivist of the United States. Prior to the announcement, there was no consultation with professional organizations of archivists or historians. This is the first time since the National Archives and Records Administration was established as an independent agency that the process of nominating an Archivist of the United States has not been open for public discussion and input. We believe that Professor Weinstein must—through appropriate and public discussions and hearings—demonstrate his ability to meet the criteria that will qualify him to serve as Archivist of the United States.

When former President Ronald Reagan signed the National Archives and Records Administration Act of 1984 (Public Law 98-497), he said that, “the materials that the Archives safeguards are precious and irreplaceable national treasures and the agency that looks after the historical records of the Federal Government should be accorded a status that is commensurate with its important responsibilities.” Earlier in 1984, when the National Archives Act was being discussed, Senate Report 98–373 cautioned that if the Archivist was appointed “arbitrarily, or motivated by political considerations, the historical records could be impoverished [or] even distorted.”

P. L. 98–497 clearly states that, “The Archivist shall be appointed without regard to political affiliations and solely on the basis of the professional qualifications required to perform the duties and responsibilities of the office of Archivist.” In 1984, House Report 98–707 noted, “The committee expects that [determining professional qualifications] will be achieved through consultation with recognized organizations of archivists and historians.” The law also states that when the Archivist is replaced, the President “shall communicate the reasons for such removal to each House of Congress.” President Bush has not given a reason for the change, and there is no evidence to suggest that it is being made because of John Carlin's resignation.

We agree with these statements and believe that the decision to appoint a new Archivist should be considered in accordance with both the letter and the spirit of the 1984 law.

We call on the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs to schedule open hearings on this nomination in order to explore more fully (1) the reasons why the Archivist is being replaced and (2) Professor Weinstein's qualifications to become Archivist of the United States. Among other issues, we believe it is important to learn more about Professor Weinstein's:

  • Knowledge and understanding of the critical issues confronting NARA and the archival profession generally, especially the challenges of information technology, and the competing demands of public access to government records, privacy, homeland security, and ensuring the authenticity and integrity of all records.

  • Thoughts on how NARA should balance competing interests for protecting sensitive or confidential information with those seeking to gain access to records created by government agencies.

  • Ideas for continuing essential programs as well as important new archival initiatives, such as the Electronic Records Archives project.

  • Thoughts on fully supporting the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), whose grants have been instrumental in starting and supporting the production of published editions of historical documents and in helping to raise the level of archival practice at state and local levels.

  • Experience and demonstrated ability to lead and manage a large government agency such as NARA.

  • Plans for protecting the professional integrity and political non-partisanship of NARA as a governmental agency.

The signatories are (as of press date): The Society of American Archivists, the American Association for State and Local History, the American Historical Association, the Association for Documentary Editing, the Association of Research Libraries, the Conference of Inter-Mountain Archivists, the Coordinating Council for Women in History, the Council of State Historical Records Coordinators, the Illinois Library Association, Midwest Archives Conference, the Social Responsibility Forum, the Midwest Archives Conference, the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators, the National Humanities Alliance, New England Archivists, Northwest Archivists, Inc., the Organization of American Historians, the Progressive Librarians Guild, and the Wisconsin Library Association.