The National Archives Building in Seattle
The National Archives Building in Seattle (NARA photo)

On Fri­day, the fed­er­al Office of Man­age­ment and Bud­get (OMB) — which is cur­rent­ly con­trolled by Don­ald Trump’s regime — decid­ed to close the Nation­al Archives’ Seat­tle facil­i­ty and move all of its mate­ri­als out of state, as report­ed in this thor­ough arti­cle by The Seat­tle Times’ Eric Lacitis.

The deci­sion, which was made with almost zero pub­lic input, affects the entire Pacif­ic North­west, as the Sand Point Way facil­i­ty exists to “main­tain and pro­vide access to per­ma­nent records cre­at­ed by fed­er­al agen­cies and courts… in Wash­ing­ton, Ore­gon, Ida­ho, and Alas­ka,” as NARA’s web­site states.

We main­tain and pro­vide access to more than 56,000 cubic feet of per­ma­nent records from fed­er­al agen­cies locat­ed in Alas­ka, Ida­ho, Ore­gon, and Wash­ing­ton. We also have a small num­ber of records from a few agen­cies in Mon­tana, includ­ing the For­est Ser­vice and the Unit­ed States Dis­trict Courts. In the hold­ings, there are many types of tex­tu­al records, includ­ing cor­re­spon­dence, reports, inven­to­ries, bound vol­umes, maps, draw­ings, blue­prints, and photographs.

Our micro­film col­lec­tion has over 1,000 pub­li­ca­tions. Each pub­li­ca­tion has copies of records cre­at­ed by Fed­er­al agen­cies locat­ed through­out the Unit­ed States and abroad.

NARA Seat­tle

“The expan­sive col­lec­tion includes mil­i­tary, land, court, tax and cen­sus records. It con­tains impor­tant treaty doc­u­ments relat­ing to the [region’s] two hun­dred and sev­en­ty-two fed­er­al­ly rec­og­nized tribes,” Lacitis’ report explains.

“There, in row after row of four­teen-foot-high shelves that hold near­ly one mil­lion box­es, you can find every­thing from the For­est Ser­vice tele­types sent when Mount St. Helens explod­ed in May 1980 to exquis­ite 1890s hand-drawn line sketch­es of the Aleut­ian Islands as seen from a boat.”

It was just a few years ago that NARA shut­tered its Anchor­age facil­i­ty and moved the con­tents to Seat­tle, con­sol­i­dat­ing its facil­i­ties in the region.

Now, based on this mis­guid­ed rec­om­men­da­tion (which, sad­ly, appears to be based only on dol­lars and cents as opposed to what is actu­al­ly good for the region), OMB and NARA plan to do the same with NARA’s Seat­tle facil­i­ty, which means those Alas­ka records will be mov­ing out of the Pacif­ic North­west entirely.

OMB’s ver­dict iron­i­cal­ly came on the very same day that the region’s jus­ti­fi­ably alarmed con­gres­sion­al del­e­ga­tion sent a let­ter to OMB sharply ques­tion­ing the plan to shut the facil­i­ty and move its con­tents elsewhere.

The let­ter was signed by all eight of the affect­ed states’ sen­a­tors: Pat­ty Mur­ray, Maria Cantwell, Ron Wyden, Jeff Merkley, Jim Risch, Mike Crapo, Dan Sul­li­van, and Lisa Murkows­ki. Four Democ­rats and four Republicans.

It’s pret­ty rare to see those eight names on a joint let­ter, as Ida­ho and Alaska’s whol­ly Repub­li­can con­gres­sion­al del­e­ga­tions don’t often agree with Wash­ing­ton and Ore­gon’s most­ly Demo­c­ra­t­ic del­e­ga­tions on very much. But they do agree that clos­ing NARA Seat­tle would be a mis­take, which is heart­en­ing to see.

In anoth­er irony, it was an act of Con­gress that set these events in motion.

In 2016, dur­ing the pres­i­den­cy of Barack Oba­ma, the Repub­li­can-con­trolled Con­gress passed (and Pres­i­dent Oba­ma signed) the Fed­er­al Assets Sale and Trans­fer Act (“FASTA”), which cre­at­ed the Pub­lic Build­ings Reform Board.

The Pub­lic Build­ings Reform Board is an advi­so­ry body that is sup­posed to help the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment iden­ti­fy “unneed­ed” fed­er­al­ly owned prop­er­ties for “dis­pos­al”. Of course, what is “unneed­ed” is in the eye of the beholder.

What one per­son con­sid­ers to be nonessen­tial may be con­sid­ered essen­tial by anoth­er per­son. In this case, a group of peo­ple work­ing in the oth­er Wash­ing­ton — our nation’s cap­i­tal — have decid­ed that this Wash­ing­ton and its neigh­bor­ing states do not need to have a NARA facil­i­ty of their own.

And that real­ly, real­ly, real­ly both­ers us.

It both­ers our region’s tribes, too, which are sov­er­eign nations.

“A sale of the Sand Point Cen­ter will undoubt­ed­ly have an impact on tribes. In fact, it will be a pro­found, neg­a­tive and irrepara­ble impact,” wrote Puyallup Trib­al Chair David Z. Bean in a let­ter to OMB. “Yet, [nei­ther] the Pub­lic Build­ing Reform Board, the Nation­al Archives and Records Admin­is­tra­tion, the Off­fice Man­age­ment and Bud­get, nor any oth­er fed­er­al agency has engaged in gov­ern­ment-to-gov­ern­ment trib­al con­sul­ta­tion as required by Exec­u­tive Order 13175. Worse, the fed­er­al agen­cies did not even alert Tribes about the pro­posed sale.”

Garbage in, garbage out. The process used to reach this deci­sion did not fol­low the law, and so the deci­sion should not stand on that basis alone.

NPI strong­ly and emphat­i­cal­ly oppos­es OMB’s deci­sion, and will join with our region’s tribes, our con­gres­sion­al del­e­ga­tion, librar­i­ans, his­to­ri­ans, and con­cerned activists to fight and over­turn it. It makes no sense that impor­tant fed­er­al records doc­u­ment­ing the polit­i­cal, legal, and cul­tur­al his­to­ry of the Pacif­ic North­west should be sent to Cal­i­for­nia or Mis­souri (which is what OMB has in mind).

We at NPI have a pas­sion for archiv­ing. Our team serves as the cus­to­di­ans of a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of records, includ­ing the dig­i­tal papers of the late Lynn Allen and the cam­paign web­sites of a num­ber of statewide bal­lot measures.

We also main­tain a large library of mul­ti­me­dia (images, audio, video) that our staff and board and con­trib­u­tors have cre­at­ed going back to 2003.

Among the records in our care are the archives of this blog, the Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate, which go back to 2004 and encom­pass over five thou­sand posts.

As archivists our­selves, we know how impor­tant acces­si­bil­i­ty is.

If archived mate­ri­als are not acces­si­ble, then their val­ue dimin­ish­es, because they can’t ben­e­fit the work of authors, his­to­ri­ans, edu­ca­tors, researchers, and they can’t be inspect­ed by mem­bers of the pub­lic. Many records can be dig­i­tized, but not all, and NARA isn’t even close to mak­ing all that it has avail­able electronically.

The clo­sure of NARA Seat­tle may not result in the destruc­tion of data and records, but it would have a grave impact on the acces­si­bil­i­ty of data and records.

We need to pull togeth­er as a region to save NARA Seat­tle. We hope that our influ­en­tial senior Sen­a­tor Pat­ty Mur­ray can ensure that fund­ing is made avail­able to keep the facil­i­ty open and address its main­te­nance needs. NARA Seat­tle is a price­less resource. We can’t let OMB take it away from us with­out a fight.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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One reply on “OMB’s decision to close the National Archives’ Seattle branch must be fought and overturned”

  1. An inex­plic­a­ble, inde­fen­si­ble deci­sion. Prob­a­bly need a new Pres­i­dent to get this recon­sid­ered. Anoth­er rea­son to vote blue, no mat­ter who, in 2020!

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