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Public Access to Government Records

As a professional researcher, access to the documents located both in the Federal Records Center and National Archive are an invaluable source of information. The following recommendations are provided to help with open government and access:

1) Adhere to established records schedules and accession records to the National Archives in a more orderly and timely manner.

2) Create a system by which researchers may access records at the FRCs without going through a Freedom of Information request. Historical research requires reviewing records within the context of decisions made leading up to a specific decision or document. However, records mangers frequently deny access to groups of records and will only search for a specific document. This is contrary to historical research methodology and limits access to records which, unless classified, should be open for public review.

3) Revamp 135 Forms to provide more detailed descriptions of what is being stored in the Federal Records Center.

4) Maintain 135 Forms in electronic format for increased public access.

5) Teach Federal Record Center records managers that 135 Forms are open to public review without obtaining permission from the agency.

6) Formalize access and copying procedures at all National Archives throughout the country.

7) Update and scan finding aids on an ongoing basis for Record Groups at all archives. Place the finding aids online for public review.

Submitted by Historical Researcher 2 years ago

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  1. The idea was posted
    2 years ago

Comments (4)

  1. Electronic access to finding aids and 135s would be of great benefit to researchers across the country and would reduce the burden on the Archives and FRC staffs.

    2 years ago
    1 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  2. care needs to be given to the types of information located in Federal Record Centers. Even after Agencies transfer some records, they may be required for ongoing research and to support efforts of the Agency. Also, in many cases there are "need to know" issues associated with records, along with privacy concerns.

    The FOIA process, while cumbersome to researchers, is designed in part to provide a bit of understanding into WHO the researcher is and WHAT they are looking for the information for. Not all "researchers" really are researchers, or even citizens. If you aren't familiar with a concept known as the "mosaic effect", you may want to learn a bit about it- it will give you a greater understanding of why not just anyone can simply say they want to see something and receive it.

    Three seemingly unrelated requesters from disparate locations can each ask for pieces of information that on their own may not mean anything, but when assembled together could yield information that could have devastating impacts on National Security, or at minimum, could result in a compromise of infrastructure.

    2 years ago
    0 Agreed
    4 Disagreed
  3. Historical Researcher Idea Submitter

    Documents containing "need to know" issues should have a confidentiality classification. As such, they are kept secure from "mosaic effect." However, documents that are unclassified should be open to the public. National security is not at risk when a requestor asks for a file that was open to public review while at the agency, but now that it is in the FRC it is hidden from public access due to the vagueness of 135 Form or the bureaucratic red tape that so often accompanies public documents that are transferred to the Federal Record Center. This burden is compounded when an agency FOIA officer/ agency staff are unfamiliar with the Federal Records Center. I have been personally told on several occasions by FOIA officers/agency staff that a record does not exists only to find out later it did exist in the Federal Record Center. Likewise, I have been told by agency staff that because it was in the Federal Records Center, a document is no longer the agency’s responsibility.

    2 years ago
    0 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  4. 1. Automated indexing, forms processing, and records access are all techniques that can make research more efficient. Such techniques should be made available by NARA to citizens to assure records continue to provide their intended benefits to the nation.

    2. Records management must be robust over time. In the past, large pieces of the national record have been lost due to catastrophe, like fire. In the future, additional issues may exist with electronic storage and media. Systems redundancy & recovery, technical currency, and appropriate access capabilities are key features of our future ERM system.

    3. If genuinely security-restricted records are to be part of the National Archive, the system must be able to properly restrict access to appropriate users. However, a locked record is like no record, so:

    a. Every record must have someone who can access it,

    b. Access should be as broad as possible, and

    c. Access should be gradually opened to everyone.

    2 years ago
    0 Agreed
    0 Disagreed