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My name is Michael McReynolds, and today I am
Subcommittee on Rules of the House of the United States
House of Representatives on the records of the House. are also pleased that this opportunity comes as a result of
our somewhat newly independent status within the Federal
Ever since the passage of the Legislative
Reorganization Act of 1946, the administrative and committee
records of the House of Representatives have been received, preserved, and made available to the American public at the
The first accession of records totalled
almost 10,000 cubic feet of records and included the
earliest documents of the House when it first met in 1789.
Now records are regularly transferred after the time lapse
of 2 Congresses; we now have more than 23,000 cubic feet of
House records in the Legislative Archives Division.
As you know the records are, and will remain, in the
legal custody of the House.
The United States is unique in
the western world in that the national archives of this
country not only has the records of the executive branch of
Government, but also the records of both Houses of Congress
and the Supreme Court.
Some people have chided us that this
arrangement conflicts with the separation of powers, but the
National Archives believes the housing of the records of all
three branches of Government is based on the trust those
three branches have in the National Archives.
arrangement certainly facilitates research and makes the
public record easily available to the American people.
The archival responsibility where the trust is most
necessary and tested each day is that of granting access to
records we hold.
The law and executive orders governing
access to Federal records attempt to strike a balance
between the public's right to know about its Government and
the Government's need to protect some information from
In practice that means State
Department records from the 1950's are being declassified
and made available to the public; Office of Management and
Budget records from the 1960's in the National Archives are
open; the bulk of President Gerald Ford's records can be
examined by citizens; and many Federal agencies are opening
very recent records in response to Freedom of Information
Access to the records of the House of Representatives,
however, is restricted for 50 years.
As you may imagine,
researchers coming to the National Archives are often
stunned when they learn of the 50-year rule.
for World War II and the Korean War.
We have enforced the
50-year rule since the House records were opened for
research, but it is increasingly difficult to explain the
rationale of the rule to citizens who come to the National
Archives and can see much more recent records of many
Federal agencies, the Supreme Court, and the United States
What are the records that are being kept closed for 50
years and who are the people seeking access to those
The records are the administrative and committee
records of the House.
They are the bill files from the
committees; the petitions from citizens to the House;
correspondence and reports from the White House and
executive agencies; and the transcripts of hearings and
other records related to the official work of the House.
They do not include the office files of individual
Congressmen which remain the personal property of the
The people who seek access to those House records are
historians, political scientists, lawyers, and many family
historians. In fact genealogists make up the majority of our researchers, as you can see in the annual report
submitted to Congress earlier this year and included as part
of this testimony.
In the 19th century, many citizens filed
claims against the Government directly to Congress, and
those claims files among the House records are excellent
sources for family histories.
We believe the 50-year rule was instituted to protect
the sitting Members of the House from political
entanglements when access is granted to House records.
you may surmise from my brief description of the House
records at the National Archives and the types of
researchers who use the records, it is unlikely that many,
if any, political or embarrassing records will be filed in
committee or the Clerk's records and transferred to the
Nor do we have researchers looking for political
documents that might be used against a sitting Member of
Political documentation is filed in the personal
offices of the Congressmen, and those records remain in the
legal custody of the Members.
Another factor in this matter of access is that
Congress traditionally has published far more of its information than any other Government body, as a means of
disseminating information about its work.
Record and its predecessors; the Congressional serial set,
which is a collection of Committee reports and other
documents; transcripts of Congressional hearings; and since
1979, the telecasting of the House floor proceedings, all
illustrate the long and highly praised policy of the House
of Representatives to make its record freely and widely
available to the American people.
Only in the area of its
archival records does the House limit access to its record.
From the time that the first House records were
transferred to the National Archives in 1946 until the
passage of House Resolution 288, 83rd Congress, in 1953
access was extremely difficult.
Very few individuals or
government agencies were permitted to view these records.
In two instances, state libraries were fortunate enough to
have House resolutions passed on their behalf to enable them
to secure photostatic copies of nineteenth century documents
of importance to their state histories.
Historical Association and the National Archives urged the
House to adopt a more liberal access policy toward its
These institutions favored the passage
of the 50, year rule, which was in keeping with many other
Government agencies of that time.
Their labors were
rewarded with the passage of House Resolution 288, 83rd
While the resolution clearly opened for research
all records over 50 yers old, it permitted the Clerk some discretion on opening other House records.
Indeed our records show that from 1953 to at least
1971, the clerk permitted access to House records regardless
of their age.
In fact the first researcher to request
records of the House after the passage of House Resolution
288 in 1953 wanted to view records from 1930-1940; he was
That same researcher or any other would be
denied access to these same records if he asked to view them
in 1986--33 years later.
From 1958 to 1971 the situation became at once less
structured and more open.
In a 1958 meeting between the
clerk, then Ralph Roberts, Speaker Sam Rayburn and the