페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

Archivist of the United States it was concluded that the

authority of House Resolution 288 expired with the 83rd

Congress.

The only way researchers could obtain access

henceforth was by applying to the Clerk for permission.

The

Clerk continued to grant access to records of quite recent

origin.

In a 1971 letter to the Archivist, however, the Clerk

reasserted the authority of the 1953 House Resolution 288.

He

insisted that researchers wishing to view certain

categories of records, such as those less than 50 years old,

be required to seek specific authorization.

By the mid

1970s the practical effect of this was to deny access to all

House records less than 50 years old--records that in some

cases had been openly viewed by many researchers.

Let me therefore outline the current procedures for

access to those records that are more than 50 years old,

that is documents that date from 1789 to 1936.

First, the

researcher must obtain the written authorization of the

Clerk of the House for that purpose.

This procedure is

designed to permit the clerk to exercise the authority

vested in him by House Resolution 288, 83rd Congress.

The

resolution permits the Clerk to release documents that are

at least 50 years old "except when he determines that the

use of such records would be detrimental to the public

interest."

The Clerk discharges his responsibilities by

requiring researchers to file a formal written request

asking permission to view the files.

In response to the

researcher's request, the clerk writes a letter to the

researcher with a copy to the National Archives, giving his approval. We are unable to find a single instance where the

Clerk has denied access to records that are at least 50

[blocks in formation]

adjudicate the cases of Southerners who lost property at the

These

hands of Northern forces during the Civil War.
records are a gold mine of genealogical information for

people whose ancestors filed claims before the Commission

which reviewed over 20,000 claims.

Typically a researcher

asks if we have a file for his ancestor.

Our response

indicates the number of pages in the file and the cost to obtain a copy, and says that before we can provide copies of

the file, the researcher must obtain the written

authorization of the Clerk.

Because these records are well

over 50 years old, the Clerk always approves the request.

What happens if a researcher comes to the National

Archives to view records of the House, unaware that he first

had to clear the request with the clerk?

In this instance

it is, of course, impractical for the researcher to write a letter and wait for a response. We ask the researcher to

use one of our office telephones to call the Clerk's office

to secure verbal clearance to view the records.

The Clerk's

7

staff members have cooperated in this arrangement, but

insist that after the fact the researcher submit a formal

request to view the records.

In these cases,

the Clerk is theoretically ensuring

that House records older than 50 years that are "detrimental

to the public interest" are not released to the public.

But

in practice no one from the Clerk's office examines the

records in question.

This procedure is pro forma and

wasteful of time and money.

In effect the Clerk's office

trusts the archivists at the National Archives to protect

the public interest and the records of the House.

Requiring

permission to view 50 year old records is a throw back to an

earlier age, when access to public records was secured

through connections in Washington.

To a public that is

accustomed to viewing the records of their Government as a right, the House's practices are seriously antiquated and

[blocks in formation]

Members may view House records regardless of their age,

under the auspices of the appropriate Committee.

Our

enterprising researcher contacts the Committee, or contacts

someone in his Congressman's office, who contacts someone on

the Committee.

The Committee borrows the records from the

Archives, and the researcher is permitted to view the

documents in the Committee's offices.

This is what

archivists call "privileged access."

Most Americans cannot

see House records less than 50 years old, but those who have

connections can.

We would like to see this practice end,

and most of it would if the House had access rules more

attuned to modern information policies.

The National Archives has been asked what restrictions

we see as being appropriate for the House records:

restrictions that will protect the work of the House,

provide citizens with access to information they seek, and

relieve both the clerk and the Archives of burdensome and

costly procedures.

We suggest that the House look to the

Senate for guidance and experience with a 20 and 50-year

rule.

In 1980, the Senate passed Senate Resolution 474,

96th Congress, 2nd Session, that established a 20-year rule

on most of its records in the National Archives.

Investigative records relating to individuals and containing

personal data, personnel records, and records of executive

nominations not previously made public are closed for 50

years.

All other Senate records are open after 20 years,

unless á committee establishes some other restriction.

In the 6 years since that resolution was passed the

National Archives has provided Senate records to researchers

without any problems.

The public can see Senate records

well into the era of the Viet Nam war, the civil rights

movement, and the presidency of Lyndon Johnson.

Two Senate committees moved to open even more recent

records.

The Rules Committee established a restriction

9

23-542 - 91 - 3

statement for Sam Ervin's Watergate Committee records that

is very similar to the Freedom of Information Act permitting

access to most of that important set of records.

And

earlier this year, Senator Lugar, Chairman of the Foreign

[blocks in formation]

had no crises, leaks, or "boomerangs" when allowing the

public to see these records.

We do note far more interest

and activity by the research public in the records of the

Senate.

The Senate 20/50-year rule is only one of several

access regulations with which we work at the National

Archives, but House and Senate records are similar in

content and attract similar types of researchers.

We have

and will work with any set of regulations the House of

Representatives establishes for its records.

We will

protect the public interest and the rights and privileges of

the House.

Archivists at the National Archives have an exemplary

record in protecting the records of the United States

Government.

Justice William Brennan in his opinion for the

Supreme Court in Nixon v. Administrator ruled against the

former President's privacy claim stating "the unblemished

record of the archivists for discretion" would protect the

privacy of the former President (4330.9.465).

Our record

« 이전계속 »