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.