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From The Coalition Column of the November 2006 Perspectives

News Briefs, November 2006

Bruce Craig, November 2006

NARA Issues Final Rule on New Hours

After soliciting public comment on proposed changes in the hours of operation for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) research and museum facilities in Washington, D.C., and College Park, Maryland, a final rule was published in the Federal Register on September 27, 2006. New hours for both the museum and research side of the two NARA facilities went into effect on October 2, 2006.

The new research hours are: Monday–Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. To accommodate researchers who work during regular business hours, the National Archives will have extended hours once a month. The monthly extended hours are Thursday and Friday, 9 a.m. to 8:45 p.m., and Saturday, 8:45 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. The new hours are posted online at: www.archives.gov/research/, including the specific dates for extended hours in fiscal 2007.

The new hours will affect both researchers and visitors to Washington, D.C., who each year flock to visit the NARA Rotunda where the founding documents are on display. The new museum hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the spring and summer (March 15 through Labor Day). Fall and winter hours (the day after Labor Day through March 14) will remain unchanged: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. These changes affect (except for special events) the Rotunda, the Public Vaults, the O'Brien Gallery, the Archives Shop, and the McGowan Theater, when it reopens. The museum will remain closed on Thanksgiving Day as well as on Christmas day.

The regional centers of the National Archives around the country will continue to operate during core hours, but will modify their extended hours, effective October 2. For more information on these changes, go to www.archives.gov/locations/regional-archives.html. For the final rule, go to http://a257.g.akamaitech.net/7/257/2422/01jan20061800/edocket.access.gpo.gov/2006/06-8338.htm. To see the interim rule, go to: http://www.archives.gov/comment/hours-rule.pdf.

Constitution Day Federal Mandate Expanded

As regular readers of this column are aware, in 2004 Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) tacked onto federal legislation a requirement that "each federal institution that receives federal funds . . . must hold an educational program on the U.S. Constitution on 17 September each year." (see "Constitution Day Events" in NCH Washington Update, September 15, 2006; vol. 12 #36). This year there is a new requirement—federal employees must complete a 25-minute tutorial on the Constitution. The 37-page tutorial provides a general historic overview and summary of the amendments.

Some federal officials such as Daniel Sutherland, officer for civil rights and civil liberties, and George Tanner, chief learning officer, view Constitution Day and all its requirements as an "opportunity to pause and consider the larger purpose behind our professionalism." However not all federal employees find the tutorial worthwhile. One DHS employee stated the tutorial was a "waste of time…stuff I learned in high school."

Byrd's belief in the relevance and importance of the Constitution has been apparent throughout his service in the U.S. Senate. He regularly carries a copy of the Constitution in his coat pocket and often quotes from the document during Senate debates. According to Byrd, the Constitution "embodies the vision of the Framers, their dream of freedom…but we cannot defend and protect this dream if we are ignorant of the Constitution's history and how it works."

Congress Calls on the PIDB to Review Prewar Intelligence Reports

For several months now the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) has been quietly meeting and listening to the concerns of representatives of various federal agencies on their declassification programs. Now, however, it looks like the PIDB is being called upon to meet if not extend its congressional charge—to provide input and guidance on behalf of the public in matters relating to declassification.

In response to recent criticism involving the Bush administration and its alleged abuse of its classification authority, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) has added his support to a proposal to assign the PIDB a new task. It would be charged to review the Intelligence Committee's recent reports on prewar intelligence in order to discern whether or not they were appropriately declassified.

During a floor debate on September 14, 2006, senate Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), accused Republicans in the Bush administration of concealing embarrassing reports that are irrelevant to issues of national security. Senator Reid stated that he intended to "offer an amendment to declassify one of these sections" from the Intelligence report. However, Senator Roberts believed a review of the reports should first be conducted by the PIDB, a proposal originally suggested by Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Roberts asserted that the concern over declassification was a bipartisan issue and that "Members on both sides of the aisle…have agreed to work with the National Archives Public Interest Declassification Board, which is the proper way to do it, to review and, hopefully, further declassify some of the remaining redacted portions." (For the full floor debate, see the posting by the Federation of American Scientists at http://www.fas.org/irp/congress/2006_cr/declass091406.html.)

The PIDB, is an advisory committee that was established to "promote the fullest possible public access to a thorough, accurate, and reliable documentary record of significant U.S. national security decisions and activities." It is comprised of five members appointed by the president and four members who are congressional appointees. The PIDB held its first meeting in February 2006. If the proposed task is agreed upon, the review of the Intelligence Committee reports would be the first advisory action taken by the PIDB.

Bush Library Releases Presidential Records

The George Bush Presidential Library has released an additional 17,930 pages of documents from the George Bush presidential records and the Dan Quayle vice presidential records. According to Supervisory Archivist Robert Holzweiss, the library has released "60,841 pages" while "an additional 11,300 plus documents remain closed." There is no set date for the release of the remaining documents. The 18,238 documents that comprise the August 30, 2006, release include memos and letters from staff and various political figures regarding issues such as health care, the environment, and campaign finance. The complete list of released materials can be found at http://bushlibrary.tamu.edu/research/releaseddocuments.html.

—BC