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From the From the Executive Director column of the September 2004 Perspectives

The AHA Expresses Concern about Archivist Nomination in Letter to Senate Committee

Arnita A. Jones and Jonathan Spence, September 2004

On July 21, 2004, the AHA sent a letter to the chair of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, expressing the Association’s concern about the procedures being followed for the nomination of a new Archivist of the United States. The text of the letter is reproduced below.

The Honorable Susan Collins,
Chair, Senate Governmental Affairs Committee
United States Senate
Room SD-340
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Collins:

We write on behalf of the American Historical Association concerning the nomination of Allen Weinstein to be Archivist of the United States. Founded in 1884 and incorporated by the Congress in 1889, the Association is the oldest and largest professional historical organization in the United States, bringing together more than 14,000 college and university faculty, archivists, librarians, and K–12 teachers, 119 affiliated societies and 5000 institutions. Since the end of the nineteenth century we have been steadfast advocates of the need to preserve government records and make them available to scholars, students, journalists, and the public at large.

The American Historical Association argued vigorously for the establishment of a National Archives years before it became a reality in 1935. We have worked to maintain its independence ever since and heartily supported the 1984 legislation, which specifies that the Archivist should be appointed solely on the basis of professional qualifications and without regard to political affiliation. The Archivist of the United States is not one of hundreds of Senate-confirmed appointees who serve at the
pleasure of the President. The Archivist is the guardian of our nation’s history and must be a public servant whose credentials, experience, and vision are open to public scrutiny.

The public has a right to hear and to question the views and credentials of any nominee to the position of Archivist of the United States on a number of key issues, including access to records created by government agencies, privacy, new developments in information technology, the appropriate standards for national security classification and declassification, and the future of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. To clarify these and other matters we request that the Committee reconsider its decision not to hold an oversight hearing on the National Archives prior to moving forward with confirmation of a new archivist.

The American Historical Association strongly urges the Senate to give full due process to consideration of this nomination and thereby avoid setting a dangerous precedent that could undermine this important office.

Sincerely,

Arnita A. Jones
Executive Director

Jonathan Spence
AHA President

The committee held a nomination hearing on July 22, 2004, but a dramatic disclosure about the current archivist's resignation raised such serious questions about the process to replace him that the confirmation was temporarily held in abeyance (see article for details).