8 February 2021
Office of Management and Budget
United States Government
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Ms. Tanden,
The Canadian Historical Association welcomes you to your new position and would like to take this opportunity to encourage you to review the decision of your predecessor in the Office of Management and Budget regarding the closure and sale of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) facility in Seattle.
Access to historical knowledge is a prerequisite of a functioning democracy. The records in the custody of the NARA document the nation’s history and are essential to allow citizens, students and scholars to understand the evolution of their country and to know and protect their rights. It is particularly vital to Native Americans and minority groups who struggle to protect their historic rights. In a country as large as the United States the democratic function of an archives is best served by keeping historical records in the region they refer to, so the public can realistically access them.
For this vital reason the NARA maintains regional repositories around the United States and their Seattle repository provides access to millions of permanent records created by federal agencies and courts for Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington dating back to the 1840s. Last year, the OMB accepted the recommendation of the Public Buildings Reform Board to sell the Seattle NARA repository, but it did so without consultation with or support from the public or stakeholders including the NARA and professional historical and archival associations. Since that decision many organizations have protested the drastic negative effects such a closure will have and the Attorney General of Washington State is attempting to block the sale in court. That office has been joined by 29 tribes, tribal entities and communities, Oregon and 9 historic preservation and community groups.
The former administration proposed moving these records relating to Alaska and the Pacific Northwest to Missouri and Southern California. Such a move defies logic and would impose unreasonable access burdens upon those who seek to use the materials.
While we recognize that the current NARA facility in Seattle does not meet current standards and needs renovation it is vital that the records it preserves remain accessible in the region. It may be that an impartial review will show that it is more effective to build a new facility and sell the current one, but this is a process that will take years to effect and requires the careful input of the NARA to plan for continued preservation and access to collections housed in the Seattle area.
The Canadian Historical Association represents professional historians in Canada. Many of our members research American history and others teach in the Pacific Northwest where they and their graduate students need access to regional records. We urge you to review this previous decision of the OMB, halt the proposed sale, and explore the optimal future for NARA records in the Pacific Northwest.
Dr. Penny Bryden, president
cc: Senator Patty Murray, Senator Maria Cantwell, Senator Daniel Sullivan, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, Archivist of the United States David Ferriero, Attorney General of Washington State, Robert Ferguson.