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Recently, staff of the Center for Legislative Archives worked closely with both the Clerk's office and the Historian in producing the Guide to the Records of the
United States House of Representatives at the National
That volume was a bicentennial
publication of the 100th Congress and was issued as House
In the production of that volume we
enjoyed the enthusiastic cooperation of both the Clerk and the House Historian.
I have been asked to comment on public access to House records since the enactment of the 30/50 year rule. First, in regard to the shift from the 50 to the 30/50 year rule, the Archives' position has not changed since the testimony of Michael McReynolds, my predecessor, in September, 1986; and that of Don Wilson, Archivist of the United States, in June, 1988. I have attached copies of this prior testimony to my comments. In summary, the National Archives supported the change to the 30/50 year rule, and continues to do so.
Under the provisions of the 30/50 year rule, access to House records that have been made public prior to their transfer to the National Archives are immediately open for research upon their transfer. Records that contain personal privacy information on living individuals, records of executive
sessions, and national security information remain closed for fifty years. Most other records are available for research unless the Clerk determines that access "would be detrimental to the public interest or inconsistent with the
rights and privileges of the House."
In practice, access is
determined by the Clerk on a case by case basis.
Researchers wanting to use House records at the National
Archives make their requests in writing, by telephone, or in person. In all three cases researchers are advised that they must obtain permission from the Clerk's Office before the National Archives can grant access to the records. When visitors come to the Archives without making prior contact, we assist them in telephoning the Clerk. A description of how researchers obtain access to House records at the National Archives is attached to my comments.
Since the implementation of the 30/50 year rule, a number of researchers have made use of House records to which previously they would not have been given access. Obviously, their research has benefited greatly from the rules change.
Because researchers interact directly with the Clerk's Office on access questions, we are unable to say with certainty how often permission to use records has been withneld. Only if researchers inform us that their request
has been denied, do we become aware of the denial. I can say that I am aware of only two instances where access has been denied to records eligible for public use under the new House rules, and both instances involved the records of the House Un american Activities Committee. The Clerk's Office
has encouraged the Archives to survey, arrange, and describe
the HUAC records, so that at least a portion of the files
can be opened for research. I anticipate that this work will be completed by the end of FY 1990.
In closing, I would like to paraphrase comments of the
Archivist of the United States before this body a little over a year ago. Our work during the last 4 years with the staff of the Clerk's Office, the House Historian, and your Subcommittee has been marked by cooperation and
coordination. We endorse your continued efforts to make the
vast store of House documents more readily available to the people of this country.
· HOW RESEARCHERS OBTAIN ACCESS TO HOUSE RECORDS
Researchers request access to records by writing, telephoning, or appearing in person.
Written requests are normally answered by mail. Form paragraphs are used by the Center for Legislative Archives to advise researchers of the restrictions on the records and whom to write for authorization to use unrestricted records.
Occasionally, requests for loans of records for exhibit purposes come to us, normally through the NARA Office of Public Programs. If we determine the records are appropriate for exhibition, we write to the clerk requesting permission to loan the records. This is done only after the NARA document conservation lab has determined under what conditions the document can be exhibited and what preservation steps are required to assure its safe handling.
Telephone requests may be answered by phone or mail. If by mail, the above procedure is followed. If by phone, we inform the researcher of the need to contact the Clerk's Uffice for authorization and to contact us when authorization has been obtained.
When researchers appear in person, often without prior notice, we ask the researcher to call the clerk's Office from our office or we place the call ourselves. The Clerk's Office usually provides authorization over the phone. We record this information on an in-house form, "Record of Telephone Authorization to View Records of the United States House of Representatives". In conformance with the Clerk's policies, we instruct researchers of the requirement to follow up their telephone request with a written request. If the Clerk's Office cannot authorize the request over the phone, the Clerk's staff will ask the researcher to write the Clerk's Office to more fully explain or clarify the request. On rare occasions, we have loaned records to the Clerk's staff at their request so that they could make their determination.
The Clerk's Office notifies the researcher of the access determination by letter. When access has been authorized, a copy of the letter is routinely sent to NNLR. Once we have received either oral or written permission from the Clerk's Office to provide House records, we take records to the National Archives Central Research Room or provide copies as requested.