Carper Subcommittee Looks At Road Ahead For National Archives

WASHINGTON – Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) today stressed the importance of the National Archives in preserving America’s past for tomorrow’s students, scholars and the general public; and asked if the Archives is fulfilling this essential mission and whether Congress has provided the resources and tools to succeed.

Sen. Carper called this oversight hearing, “Protecting Our Nation’s History for Future Generations,” as chairman of the Federal Financial Management, Government Information and International Security subcommittee. He stressed that today’s hearing is just the first step in his subcommittee’s congressional oversight of the National Archives and Records Administration, the first such hearing in more than a decade.

Witnesses, including the Archivist of the United States, addressed topics that included maintenance and funding of the 12 presidential libraries, document declassification, and the need for a consistent policy to handle documents in new digital formats, such as e-mail and videoconferencing.

“A free society depends on the free flow of information,” said Sen. Carper. “Whether in paper form, electronic or some new form we cannot even imagine yet, it is vitally important that federal documents, correspondence and other valuable government information be made available to the American public. The many topics covered in today’s hearing all begin to address these preservation issues, including the recent discovery of missing Administration e-mails that prove it is past time for strong congressional oversight.”

Sen. Carper questioned witnesses whether a lack of guidance, poor decision-making or mismanagement led to the recent controversy over missing White House e-mails. He also asked the panel experts how the National Archives can better safeguard and preserve electronic records in the future.

The Electronic Records Archive is a system to preserve all presidential and agency records and is scheduled to launch in December 2008 in time for the presidential transition. That Archives project alone is expected to cost about $453 million through 2011. But, the project is running one year behind schedule and $14.3 million above cost, leading Sen. Carper to voice concern that mismanagement could lead to more cost overruns and project delays.

Witnesses also outlined a plan recently released by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission to improve oversight of the Founding Fathers Project and hasten its publication online to give scholars, students and the general public access to these historically significant documents.

In response to the report, Sen. Carper said, “We will continue to oversee the Founding Fathers Project and even consider legislative action to ensure these documents are published online in a timely and accessible manner.”