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

An obscure fed­er­al board­’s haughty effort to sell off and dis­man­tle the Nation­al Archives’ Seat­tle cam­pus has been halt­ed by the Biden admin­is­tra­tion, the White House­’s Office of Man­age­ment and Bud­get announced today, in a deci­sion cheered by the Pacif­ic North­west­’s con­gres­sion­al delegation.

“I am writ­ing to with­draw OMB’s Jan­u­ary 24, 2020 approval of the sale of the Fed­er­al Archives and Records Cen­ter,” Act­ing OMB Direc­tor Sha­lan­da D. Young announced in a let­ter to the “Pub­lic Build­ings Reform Board”.

“Trib­al con­sul­ta­tion is a pri­or­i­ty for this Admin­is­tra­tion. [T]he process that led to the deci­sion to approve the sale of the Fed­er­al Archives and Records Cen­ter is con­trary to this Admin­is­tra­tion’s trib­al con­sul­ta­tion pol­i­cy, and I am accord­ing­ly with­draw­ing OMB’s approval of the sale of that facility.”

The let­ter added:

“Any effort to sell the Fed­er­al Archives and Records Cen­ter in the future, through any avail­able and appro­pri­ate author­i­ty, must com­ply with at least two sub­stan­tial require­ments. First, it must be pre­ced­ed by mean­ing­ful and robust trib­al con­sul­ta­tion, con­sis­tent with the Pres­i­den­t’s Jan­u­ary 26, 2021 Mem­o­ran­dum on Trib­al Con­sul­ta­tion. Sec­ond, it must pro­ceed through the appro­pri­ate admin­is­tra­tive process, based on a new fac­tu­al record, and must com­ply with the atten­dant sub­stan­tive and pro­ce­dur­al safe­guards of that process.”

The NARA Seat­tle cam­pus is an impor­tant resource for the Pacif­ic North­west. No amount of con­sul­ta­tion will ever jus­ti­fy its dis­man­tling. Before a fed­er­al judge (and now Biden’s OMB) inter­vened to stop this ill-con­ceived sale, NARA was going to move the con­tents of the facil­i­ty to Cal­i­for­nia and Missouri.

NARA’s Seat­tle cam­pus is aging, to be sure. But the solu­tion is not to demol­ish the build­ing and move the records. It’s to mod­ern­ize the facility.

Both of Wash­ing­ton’s Unit­ed States Sen­a­tors were quick to hail the decision.

Sen­a­tor Cantwell said:

“OMB, under the Biden admin­is­tra­tion, has come to its sens­es. It believes deny­ing a pop­u­la­tion access to its his­toric records is wrong. I’m glad they are going to con­tin­ue to allow Trib­al com­mu­ni­ties to access this impor­tant information.”

Sen­a­tor Mur­ray said:

“While this process nev­er should have begun in the first place with­out Trib­al and local con­sul­ta­tion, I’m glad that OMB has lis­tened to local Tribes and reversed their deci­sion to approve the sale of the Seat­tle Archive build­ing. I want to thank every­one who made their voice heard through­out this process, and be clear I will con­tin­ue work­ing to ensure the gen­er­a­tions of arti­facts and his­to­ry stored in the Seat­tle facil­i­ty will remain acces­si­ble to stake­hold­ers across the Pacif­ic Northwest.”

As allud­ed to above, the idea to sell NARA’s Seat­tle cam­pus came from the “Pub­lic Build­ings Reform Board”, a five per­son enti­ty that was cre­at­ed a few years ago by an act of Con­gress. The board did not both­er to seek pub­lic input pri­or to get­ting Trump’s OMB to sign off on the sale. An attor­ney for the board stat­ed last year that the board was “not required by statute to seek pub­lic input first.”

That kind of atti­tude is whol­ly incon­sis­tent with the val­ues the peo­ple of this coun­try expect their rep­re­sen­ta­tives, whether elect­ed or appoint­ed, to gov­ern by.

The “Pub­lic Build­ings Reform Board” should be abol­ished. An enti­ty that has no sense of prop­er pur­pose or account­abil­i­ty does­n’t deserve to exist. Pub­licly owned build­ings and pub­lic lands deserved to be treat­ed with care and rev­er­ence — they belong to the peo­ple of the coun­try and can­not be eas­i­ly reclaimed once sold off.

Con­gress must rec­og­nize that it made a mis­take in 2016 by set­ting up an unac­count­able board and charg­ing it with mak­ing weighty deci­sions about prop­er­ties like NARA’s Seat­tle cam­pus. This mis­take should be rec­ti­fied through bipar­ti­san leg­is­la­tion as soon as pos­si­ble. We hope the Pacif­ic North­west con­gres­sion­al del­e­ga­tion will step up to lead that effort.

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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